Friday, June 17, 2011

Bitter row erupts over ‘abortion’ pill

By FRANCIS MUREITHI, fmureithi@ke.nationmedia.com

To check the high rate of maternal mortality, the government plans to roll out the distribution of life-saving drugs to all corners of the country.

It sounds like a noble enough idea on the surface. However, some NGOs and medics see mischief in the move by the government and the Kenya Obstetrical and Gynecological Society (KOGS) to widely distribute the drugs in the country.

The drugs are used to treat heavy bleeding after child birth. The government, KOGS and Venture Strategies Innovations want Misoprostol tablets to be available to pregnant women attending antenatal clinics.

Though they are life-saving drugs, some medics and NGOs claim the drugs can also be used to procure abortions.
The Director of Public Health, Dr Shahnaz Shariff, insists that the drugs would only be used in treating heavy bleeding after child birth, a leading case of maternal mortality.

Professor Joseph Karanja, an associate professor of obstetrics and gynaecology at the University of Nairobi, says 8,000 women die in Kenya from complications arising from pregnancy and child birth every year with unsafe abortions  accounting for a third of the deaths.

Professor Karanja says safe abortion services discriminate against the poor, who often have to seek the services of quacks in back streets.
Some pharmacists and doctors, however, are apprehensive about the government’s campaign.

Some medics are even accusing their colleagues of silently trying to legalise abortion.

“I can’t fathom a good reason why someone would want the drugs to be distributed so easily, unless these NGOs are pro-abortion,” said Dr Caesar Mungatana, a Nakuru-based surgeon.

“I can’t imagine a situation where vaginal bleeding is so life-threatening that one can’t make it to the nearest health centre or hospital.”
Dr Mungatana said midwives should be restricted to helping in safe deliveries and not in the administration of drugs. He said Misoprostol was a powerful drug that could be used to procure abortion if left in the wrong hands.

But Professor Karanja denies those claims. “This is a legal drug that has been in the market for many years and has nothing to do with abortion. The programme aims to save the lives of thousands of pregnant women who have no access to a health clinic,” he said.

But pharmacists in Nakuru said distributing the drugs through midwives would be illegal as they are no longer registered by the government.
“This appears like a pro-abortion agenda being pushed in a veiled manner,” said a pharmacist who declined to be named.

Some women are in praise of the drug, with some describing it as a ‘saviour drug’.

“I had a miscarriage in my first pregnancy and I almost died due to heavy bleeding. A nurse administered the drug to me and I was able to complete the process,” said a woman who only identified herself as Jane.

A third year student at a college in Nakuru claimed that many of her college mates routinely use the drugs to procure abortion.

“The drug should not be condemned by doctors. It helped me terminate an unwanted pregnancy,” said the student who declined to be named.
Dr Hillary Mabeya, a lecture at Moi University’s School of Medicine in Eldoret, dismisses assertions that the drug will be misused to procure abortions.

“No way. This drug is easily available at pharmacies and hospitals,” said Dr Mabeya.

Professor Karanja says: “In some parts of this country like North Eastern, there are less than 10 doctors yet we have dozens of midwives spread all over who could be trained on how to administer the drugs.”

The don read mischief in medics opposing the drug. “We have other drugs which could be used to procure abortions and I’m surprised those opposing it are not concerned about them.”

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