Efforts to provide safe abortions in countries hit by conflict or disasters are being held back by a lack of information and funding, said health experts in London as they presented new research on the state of reproductive health in emergencies.
The research found international health workers in South Sudan and Burkina Faso failed to provide comprehensive abortion care because they believed they were unauthorized to do so, when in fact abortion is legal in both countries in certain situations.
It is common for aid workers who provide reproductive care to err on the side of caution and avoid carrying out abortions even where it is legal, said Sandra Krause of the Women’s Refugee Commission at Wednesday’s event in London.
According to the United Nations Population Fund, 25 to 50 percent of maternal deaths in refugee settings are due to complications of unsafe abortion, making safe access vital to saving the lives of vulnerable women amidst conflict, natural disaster or displacement.
Jenny Tonge, a British parliamentarian who chairs a working group on reproductive health, said failing to provide safe abortions to rape victims in humanitarian emergencies may be in breach of international law.
Less than one percent of funding appeals for reproductive health mention abortion, said the study by the Inter-Agency Working Group on Reproductive Health in Crises (IAWG), which includes U.N. agencies, Save the Children and CARE International.
Lack of reproductive healthcare is the biggest cause of death and illness among young women in the developing world, the evaluation said, while resources “have only marginally improved” since the last comparable study in 2002.
“Women in conflict are being short-changed by international efforts to address their reproductive health needs,” said David Miliband, CEO of the International Rescue Committee, another IAWG member, in a statement.
The group attempts to ensure that different agencies get the latest training and advice on reproductive health and coordinate their efforts in humanitarian emergencies.
“We must seize upon this sobering evaluation and the growing momentum of worldwide efforts to expand access to reproductive health needs for women and girls around the world,” said Barbara Jackson, humanitarian director of CARE International. (Reporting by Joseph D’Urso; Editing by Ros Russell; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change.