Annual abortion rate in Pakistan doubled in 10 years

Published January 29, 2015
File photo of a woman undergoing an ultrasound. — AFP/File
File photo of a woman undergoing an ultrasound. — AFP/File

ISLAMABAD: A recent study revealed that an estimated 2.25 million abortions were conducted in Pakistan in 2012. Almost all these abortions were clandestine and the health and lives of women were at risk. There were 50 abortions per 1,000 women aged 15-49 in 2012 and 27 in 2002.

The study titled ‘Induced Abortions and Unintended Pregnancies in Pakistan’ was carried out by Population Council in collaboration with the Guttmacher Institute, United States of America, and launched at a local hotel in Wednesday.

The study shows that in 2012, an estimated 623,000 Pakistani women were treated for complications resulting from induced abortions, the vast majority of which were performed by unqualified people or involved traditional methods.

Study reveals an estimated 623,000 women were treated for complications resulting from induced abortions

It concludes that there is need to strengthen the family planning programme and improve the quality and coverage of post-abortion services.

A second report titled ‘Investigating the low use of contraceptive methods in Pakistan and its causes and dimensions’ was also launched at the event.

The report showed that there is a growing acceptance of contraception in Pakistan and major barriers are being removed.

According to the report, because of financial burdens and improved general awareness husbands have become supportive towards the use of contraceptives. Couples also pay less attention to demands of other family members such as mothers-in-law regarding number of children. Moreover, the report notes that religion is no longer a reason for people to hesitate from using contraceptives.

During the studies, 266 health facilities were surveyed and 102 healthcare professionals and 44 women who had an induced abortion were interviewed. Ten focus group discussions became the basis of the observations about community norms regarding abortion and post-abortion care.

It was learnt that the unintended pregnancy rate increased between 2002 and 2012, from 71 to 93 per 1,000 women aged 15–49. In 2012, there were approximately nine million pregnancies in Pakistan, of which 4.2 million were unintended. Of these unintended pregnancies, 54 per cent resulted in induced abortions and 34 per cent in unplanned births.

The studies noted that unintended pregnancies increase the burden on healthcare so quality contraceptive services should be provided, especially in rural areas.

The reports recommended that family planning counselling should be made a routine part of post-abortive care at both public and private sector facilities. In remote areas services should be delivered at the doorstep by lady health workers (LHWs) or community midwives.

The involvement of local religious leaders in making family planning campaigns successful was also highlighted in the report.

It was suggested that family planning counselling and services be provided to potential clients during antenatal, natal and postnatal checkups, as well as during general health visits to healthcare providers.

Speaking to participants, National Health Services Minister Saira Afzal Tarar said population growth rate is a basic problem.

“Health and population have been devolved to provinces but unfortunately, provinces only give importance to health and neglect population,” she said.

She said that although LHW Programme can play a key role for population welfare they are over burdened with polio vaccination and other duties.

She suggested that religious scholars should be involved because they can play a role in convincing the people to use contraceptives.

Population Council Country Director Dr. Zeba A. Sathar said a number of couples who want to use contraceptives do not have access to them.

She said in remote areas like rural Balochistan, contraceptives cost much more than other areas and health services are generally more expensive.

Published in Dawn, January 29th, 2015

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