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Combating botched abortions in Northern Ghana

Safia Zakaria works overtime to treat women coming in with abortion complications (Photo by Megan Ainscow)

By Megan Ainscow

On Aug. 4 a teenage girl walked into Ghana’s Tamale Teaching Hospital bleeding from her uterus. She had taken Cytotec, a drug meant for stomach ulcers but can induce abortion. Three hours later she bled to death.

On average rouhgly 40 women a month have been admitted to the hospital with complications from at-home abortions. Their methods are numerous – some have inserted concoctions into themselves, others have used broken bottles to try and remove the fetus or some ingest drugs.

Abortion is a leading cause of maternal death in Ghana, reports say.

Safia Zakaria is the principal nurse in the gynaecology ward in the predominantly Muslim capital. Though at first she often advises women to keep the child, she has chosen to loosely interpret Ghanaian law and performs abortions with NGO-donated equipment.

“Me in particular, I swore never even to do it, but there are instances... just to save life," she said.

In Ghana abortion is a criminal offence with practitioners facing a penalty of up to five years in prison. Many are afraid to seek safe abortion services for fear they will be stigmatized.

The lack of clarity in government policies is a reflection of the ongoing struggle in Ghanaian society – a race towards modernity running up against limited resources and deeply traditional beliefs.

Dr. Husein Zakaria is executive director of CODYAC, an Islamic youth centre in Tamale that seeks to address key issues affecting the lives of young people. He conceded that the young women showing up at TTH need medical care, but does not support offering them abortion services.

“The kind of legalization you are talking about is where everybody can walk to the doctor and say 'I’m pregnant I don’t want it, please just quash it'. I think that system is not the best for people like us,” he said.

In the meantime, to curb the growing problem of teenage pregnancy his office encourages abstinence.



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