Annually September 28 marks the Global Day of Action for Access to Safe and Legal Abortion. This campaign, for decriminalisation of abortion, began more than 20 years ago in Latin America and the Caribbean before being adopted by Sexual Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) activists as a global event from 2011.
The South African Medical Students Association (SAMSA) – Standing Committee of Sexual and Reproductive Health including HIV/AIDS (SCORA) presented a Workshop on Maternal Health and Access to Safe and Legal Abortion in commemoration of this Global Day.
The event saw more than 50 medical and nursing students as well as numerous SRHR organisations come together to speak and discuss on numerous topics pertaining to Maternal Health and Abortion. The theme of the workshop was very pertinent in a Global context as the World Health Organisation (WHO) estimated in 2008 that 13% of all maternal deaths Globally were due to unsafe abortion.
The event had an incredible array of presenters which included:
- Dr Roland E. Mhlanga, a specialist of Obstetrics and Gynaecology who was instrumental in helping implement the Choice of Termination of Pregnancy Act 92, 1996 in South Africa.
- Professor Elna McIntosh, a Sexologist, Sexual Health Advisor, Educator, Researcher and therapist.
- Dr. Neil F. Moran, a specialist in Obstetrics and Gynaecology and KwaZulu-natal Facilitator of the National Committee for Confidential Enquiries into Maternal Deaths (NCCEMD)
- Dr. Paduruth Ramlachan, a medical doctor with an interest in Sexual Health. In 2007 he received a Master’s Degree in Health Sciences (Sexual Health) from the University of Sydney.
- Sister M. Nsomi, a registered professional nurse who currently works at a legal public Termination of Pregnancy (ToP) clinic in Durban, South Africa.
An array of topics were discussed which included scrutinising the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) with regards to Health, examining Maternal Deaths in South Africa as well as deaths due to complication of miscarriage, Sexual Health during pregnancy and post-partum, motivation for and implementation of the Choice on Termination of Pregnancy Act in South Africa, safety of Medical and Manual Vacuum Aspiration (MVA) abortions and contraceptive use.
An important aspect of the presentations were personal stories and experiences of the speakers in clinical settings. Sister Msomi’s experiences (a registered nurse) at the Termination of Pregnancy (ToP) clinic that she works at silenced the audience when she described the discrimination they face from other Health care workers on a daily basis by being called names such as ‘killers’ and ‘murderers’.
As health care students and future health care workers it is ABSOLUTELY important for us to separate our personal and religious views from our professional ethos.
Firstly, Termination of Pregnancy is not and should not be used as a means of contraception. However we know that besides complete abstinence from sex, complete prevention of pregnancy cannot be ensured, even with use of contraception.
Therefore it is vital for us to advocate, teach patients and ensure access to modern contraception to women, men and adolescents not only as a means to prevent pregnancy but also for preventing the contraction of Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STD’s). We need to stress on dual contraceptive use, and ensure that adolescents are given contraption in a manner that is not biased.
With regards to Termination of Pregnancy, if individuals are willing to provide the service they should be allowed to perform the procedure without receiving criticism from other health care workers or society in general. We cannot and should not allow for women to die or suffer from temporary or permanent disability from complications of an unsafe abortion when they could receive one from trained individuals which is an absolutely safe procedure.
As September 28 2015 comes to an end we should remember that the onus is on us as medical students and future health practitioners to reach the numerous SDG’s targets. In the context of this event, we can only achieve the target of reducing the global maternal mortality ratio to less than 70 per 100 000 live births by concentrating all our efforts and energy together for the next 15 years.
SCORA SAMSA-South Africa