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Abortion in Emergency Situations: The Story of the Democratic Republic of Congo

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Written by Brenda Zulu for RHRealityCheck.org - News, commentary and community for reproductive health and justice.

This is the seventh in a series of articles from Keeping Our Promise: Addressing Unsafe Abortion in Africa this week. The conference has brought together more than 250 health providers, advocates, policy makers and youth participants for a discussion of how to reduce the impact of unsafe abortion in Africa.

One in 13 women in the Democratic Republic of Congo dies in pregnancy or childbirth—that’s one death every half hour of every day.

Health problems related to pregnancy and childbirth remain the leading cause of ill health and death for women of childbearing age worldwide. But the impact is even greater in countries in the throes of a humanitarian emergency or crisis.

Addressing unsafe abortion in emergency situations at the ‘Keeping Our Promise’ conference in Accra last week, Dr Wilma Doedens of the Humanitarian Response Branch in UNFPA (the United Nations Population Fund) noted that, in the unstable environment created by a humanitarian crisis, women are at risk for an unwanted pregnancies, whether as a result of a breakdown in the health system (making family planning services unavailable), or as a result of rape that has become a consistent weapon against communities in eastern Congo.

In this context, pregnancy is particularly dangerous.

“Malnutrition and epidemics increase risks of pregnancy complications and often the lack of access to emergency obstetric care increases risk of maternal death,”said Dr Doedens.

Testimonies of women survivors of war played at the conference starkly illustrated the impact of rape and a lack of reproductive health care in the Congo.

One woman simply called Cecily explained:

“We have had war for many years and nothing has changed. We have nothing now, I have six children. It is hard to feed everyone. We have one meal per day and only my sons go to school since I do not have enough money to take the girls as well. I have heard that women can stop getting pregnant but I don’t know how and no one has told me how. I wish I could stop. I don’t want to be pregnant anymore.”

In an interview, Dr Boubacar Toure, Reproductive Health Advisor to the International Rescue Committee in Congo, outlined challenges to quality reproductive and post-rape health care in Congo.

He said that in Congo, the average age of women at their first pregnancy was 15 years, the age at which many girls were married. Read more

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