Unintended pregnancy in Africa

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Unintended pregnancy has become a very serious world problem, which, if not paid any attention to, could turn into a menacing threat to the world population as well as the health of mothers and children. Globally, more than 214 million women who do not want to get pregnant do not use any form of contraceptives such as pills, implants, and condoms, according to the World Health Organization (WHO) recent statistics. Furthermore, more than 21.6 million women have unsafe abortions yearly. But that is not all. While the majority of the 214 million women who do not use contraceptives are from developing countries, the WHO report equally shows that from the 21.6 million of the unsafe abortions yearly, nine out of 10 of them take place in developing countries. How chilling are these findings? Incredibly frightening indeed.

Sadly, many women in developing countries such as in Africa, Asia, Latin America do not have the resources and facilities necessary to prevent unwanted pregnancy. Sixty percent of the women in Sub-Saharan Africa and Southern Asia do not have access to proper contraceptives. The majority of the women who have access to contraceptives do not make use of them simply because of side effects, traditional or religious beliefs, which discourage such a use. Furthermore, a simple misconception that one would not be pregnant after having sex equally plays a role. Others even exempted themselves from the use of anti-pregnancy medium simply because they believe their sexual activeness is very minimal. Definitely, if women would be exposed to contraceptives, there would be a visible decline in the number of unwanted pregnancies yearly. Some experts believe the number of unwanted pregnancies would significantly go down from around 89 million to 22 million yearly. More than that, access to contraceptives would equally save the lives of innocent unborn children and their mothers, who often engage in life-threatening abortions. Unfortunately, according to the result of research published in 2017, more than 300,000 women die from pregnancy-related causes in developing countries, while a heart-breaking 2.7 million babies will not live beyond their first month after birth due to unintended pregnancy and exposure to inadequate health care and facilities during pregnancy. The one thing is clear: unintended pregnancies are not only a cause of socioeconomic inequality, but they are also equally a consequence of the imbalance.

With the socioeconomic inequality realities, it is, therefore, a little secret that developing countries are the Mecca of unintended pregnancy and unsafe abortions. Clearly, apart from lack of contraceptives, cultural brief, including macho attitude contribute to unwanted pregnancy. In many cultures, men’s chauvinism, which is often rooted in the tradition, is often put first and above the social and health dangers facing women and the society in general.  Many men still strongly believe it is the sole responsibility of women to take care of their contraceptive needs. Yet, in some cases, other men refuse to use a condom, simply because they want to enjoy the maximum sexual pleasure. It does not help that in many developing countries, women are not only treated as less worthy and second-class citizens, but they are also equally loaded with responsibility and exposed to cultural expectations and pressure. Worse still, many patriarchal ideologies strongly see women as potential mothers and sex object, as such, girls are encouraged, and in some cases, forced to go into – often unwanted – marriage at an early age. The idea is to make sure the women produce as many kids as possible, irrespective of the danger such a demand has on the health of the girl. Sadly, in many third world countries, some people still believe that having many kids guarantees  economic security. This should not be the case. It is the duty of both man and woman that precautions are taken to avoid bringing innocent children in this world, who could end up not being taken care of. But prevention of unwanted pregnancies requires the availability of good sexual and reproductive health facilities and services to enable the affected women or couples achieve their aim. This is where the government comes in, in the area of health services and education. Health education and enlightenment should  not only focus on or limited to women; prevention of unwanted pregnancies is a collective responsibility of all. Everyone (men and women) should be taught the dangers of  unintended pregnancies to both the mother and child. Equally, issues like abortion danger, as well as the consequences of overpopulation and inability of providing adequate and qualitative health care to citizens due to overpopulation and economic malaise are some of the dangers associated with unintended pregnancies, which must be highlighted.

Of course, while better health services, health education, access to contraceptives, including safe abortion, knowledge and availability of misoprostol and other safe technologies, are necessary to prevent unintended pregnancies, one must not ignore that some cultures and religious views preach against abortion. That raises both ethnic and social-economic questions. Should a woman accept an unintended pregnancy out of the cultural or religious ground? What happens when the lives of both the pregnant mother and the (unborn) child are in danger? Would it be morally right and justified to bring a child into the world knowing full well it cannot be taken care of economically, health-wise, socially and otherwise?  Interestingly, according to the WHO findings, the rate of unintended pregnancy is higher, and the number of unintended pregnancies that lead to abortion is lower, in countries, which forbids abortion than in a country where it is permitted on request. Contrarily, the rate of unintended pregnancies is significantly lower, and the number of unintended pregnancy cases that end in abortion, higher, where abortion is allowed on request. It is believed that a higher rate of unavailability of contraceptive needs may have contributed to the higher unintended pregnancy rates in countries where abortion is illegal. This logically leads to similar abortion rates.

At the end of the day, the need for a rational and unsentimental approach to the problems of unintended pregnancies, which affect both individuals and the government as a whole, should not be ignored. Perhaps it is time to cast aside our ideologies and be pragmatic towards helping individuals (and unborn children) to avoid unintended pregnancies in ways that put their health, wellbeing and the future in the first place. By so doing, we are creating, not just a sound health system, but equally, a manageable society, capable of taking adequate care of its citizens and future.