Kenya is in the grip of a national health crisis as millions of shillings are spent reducing complications from unsafe abortions.
A study by the African Population and Health Research Centre (APHRC) and the Ministry of Health (MoH) between 2012 and 2016 found that Kenya used more than Sh500 million tackling unsafe abortion cases.
The report, The Costs of Treating Unsafe Abortion Complications in Public Health Facilities in Kenya, notes that this is an increase of nearly 24 percent, compared with Sh433 million in 2012.
Launched in February, it says an estimated 464,690 abortions take place annually, and these comprise only the cases reported in the public healthcare system, meaning the number could be much higher. Many of the victims are aged between 10 and 24 years.
An estimated 2,600 women die from unsafe abortions annually, which means seven deaths a day.
Unsafe abortions have been identified as one of the major causes of maternal deaths locally. The 2014 Kenya Demographic Health Survey says unsafe abortions accounted for 35 percent of the maternal deaths; the global average is 13 percent.
One of the major reasons women risk unsafe abortion is the social stigma surrounding abortion and lack of service delivery policies.
In addition, the legal provisions governing safe abortion seem not to be fully understood.
One of the major reasons for unsafe abortions is unintended teen pregnancies, which stem largely from the unmet need for family planning. The figure is currently 18 percent of the eligible population.
Lack of awareness of, and access to, contraceptives and reproductive health services is another factor.
Several organisations offer pregnancy crisis counselling services, which can help women and girls in desperate situations.
But resistance by religious and conservative groups has continued to cloud the debate on the need to protect women and girls from complications, and even death, from unsafe abortions.
On September 11, 2018, an advertisement by Marie Stopes Kenya directing teenagers on where to seek safe reproductive health services was banned by the Kenya Film Classification Board (KFCB) for allegedly encouraging teenagers to abort.
In a statement, the KFCB said the Marie Stopes advert promised relief to women with unplanned pregnancies and suggesting a solution for safe abortion.
Chief Executive Officer Ezekiel Mutua also said the adverts were not submitted to the board for vetting before publication.
“The Board also demands that Marie Stopes issue a public apology for airing such content without submission for examination and classification,” Dr Mutua said.
But in a press release to newsrooms, non-governmental organisation Marie Stopes Kenya has warned that the maternal death crisis will spiral out of control unless urgent steps are taken to arrest unsafe abortions.
“This matter, therefore, needs to be brought to the fore, otherwise we shall continue to lose more women and girls over an issue which can be resolved,” the reproductive health organisation’s statement said.
Marie Stopes International Kenya is the Kenyan branch of Marie Stopes International (MSI), a global organisation that provides personalised contraception and safe abortion services to women and girls in 37 countries.