Despite the liberalization of abortion laws in many Sub-Saharan African countries in recent years and the subsequent expansion of services such as postabortion care, unsafe abortion is still common in the region and exacts a heavy toll on individuals, families and health systems. Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest estimated proportion of abortions that are unsafe in the world (77% as of 2010–2014, compared with the global average of 44%), as documented in the 2020 report From Unsafe to Safe Abortion in Sub-Saharan Africa: Slow but Steady Progress.
In line with one of its objectives to develop the capacity of advocates and policymakers to access and utilize evidence to ensure that family planning and reproductive health are prioritized in national policies and budgeting processes, the Guttmacher Institute accepted an invitation from the East African Reproductive Health Network (EARHN) to lead a session at its 11th annual coordination meeting.
“Unsafe abortion is a major public health issue in East Africa, and the region will not be able to achieve its demographic dividend unless it is addressed in the national laws of our countries,” said Dr. Jotham Musinguzi, Director General of Uganda’s National Population Council in his opening remarks. “I am so glad that the Guttmacher Institute, which is famous for its world-class research on this issue, is weighing in to make sure that our countries in the region are able to address this particular issue using evidence that is robust.”
At EARHN 11, Guttmacher Institute was represented by Dr. Akinrinola Bankole, Senior Fellow and lead author of the recent report on abortion incidence and safety in Sub-Saharan Africa. During a session titled “Meeting Sexual and Reproductive Health Needs in Sub-Saharan Africa: A Focus on Preventing Unsafe Abortion,” Bankole presented key findings on the menace of unsafe abortion, as well as the latest evidence from the Adding It Up project for cost savings from investing in sexual and reproductive health.
On how the evidence presented in the session will be used by advocates for policy change, Halima Shariff, co-chair of the Reproductive Health Supplies Coalition Advocacy and Accountability Working Group, said: “This information is very critical for us in Tanzania, as we are still grappling with how we should approach adolescents’ SRH in the country. With this data politicians and policy makers will have to listen.” Shariff added: “Youth-led networks and civil society organizations in our country will be able to use these data and amplify their voices. It is high time for them to own this kind of data and use it for the benefit of most of the population in the country.”
The two-day virtual regional convening aimed to facilitate learning and sharing of best practices for promoting family planning and reproductive health in Eastern Africa. Twenty-seven delegates from Burundi, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda attended the annual coordination meeting.
Day 1 was dedicated to taking stock of sexual and reproductive health needs in Sub-Saharan Africa, with a focus on the urgent need to prevent unsafe abortion.
Day 2 focused on national reporting on the implementation of the EARHN Strategic Plan 2017–2021 amid the COVID19 pandemic, including the sharing of good practices, challenges and opportunities.
The meeting was hosted by the Partners in Population and Development Africa Regional Office (PPD-ARO), in partnership with the African Institute for Development Policy (AFIDEP).
The East African Reproductive Health Network (EARHN) was founded as a South-South initiative by Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda (now expanded to include Rwanda, Burundi, Ethiopia and South Sudan) to facilitate the development of advocacy actions aimed at improving reproductive health services, programs and information within its member countries. EARHN’s mission is to promote sound sexual and reproductive health policies and programs across the Eastern African borders through strategic partnerships, effective coordination and the sharing of critical information, experiences and expertise.