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Taking action to address unsafe abortion in Africa


21.12.2010     More than 230 participants from more than 20 African countries gathered in November in Accra, Ghana, to discuss, deliberate, learn and share their experiences working to address the problem of unsafe abortion in Africa. The conference was organized by Ipas and co-sponsored by the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, the Ghana Ministry of Health, the International Planned Parenthood Federation Africa Regional Office, Marie Stopes International and the African Women's Development and Communication Network (FEMNET).

New figures from the World Health Organization report that though the number of deaths from unsafe abortions worldwide has declined from roughly 67,000 to 47,000, the burden of unsafe abortion mortality remains problematically high in Africa and improvements in maternal health have been slow. In Africa, especially in Eastern and Middle Africa, women continue to risk their lives to end unintended pregnancies, facing myriad barriers to access safe abortion care, including legal restrictions, social and religious stigma, geographic distances and lack of rural services.

"Most of the African conventions would have solved these problems, but they have not been implemented. It's time to lift the veil on this experience shared by so many African families," said plenary speaker Hon. Maiga sina Damba, Minister for Women's, Children's and Family Affairs, Mali, about the problem of unsafe abortion.

Dr. Richard Turkson, Ghana's High Commissioner to Canada, noted Ghana was a fitting host location for this conference, as the country has made progress in expanding women's access to safe abortion care: "In 1985, long before the African Union adopted the Maputo Protocol and Plan of Action, Ghana amended its archaic law on abortion to considerably expand the scope of abortion permissible under the law. What now remains is to apply these rules vigorously to achieve our common objective, access by our women to safe, legal abortions."

Aissatou Gueye, of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, charged the attendees with making good on promises in her keynote address during the opening ceremony: "We must mount a multifaceted social response to address the underlying causes [of unsafe abortion] to end the mistreatment of women and to eliminate all forms of gender discrimination."

Also in the opening ceremony, delivering a speech on behalf of Ghana President John Atta Mills, Ghana Deputy Minister of Health Rojo Mettle-Nunoo set the tone for the week ahead: "It is indeed time to break the culture of silence [around unsafe abortion]. Women have a choice, they have a need and they need to know their rights."

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