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Protecting the health of women in Colombia

Every day across the world, a thousand women die in childbirth and a million contract a sexually transmitted infection.

A conference sponsored by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) is being held for representatives of various countries to discuss how these numbers can be reduced. The focus of the gathering is on encouraging governments to improve access to contraceptives and to ensure better services aimed at maternal health and childbirth.

In the same week, Trustlaw reports on a new study from Colombia which highlights the ongoing problem faced by thousands of women when they find themselves with an unwanted pregnancy. According to the report’s authors (from the Guttmacher Institute), Colombia is in urgent need of improved family planning services to reduce the number of unintended pregnancies.

Nearly 45 per cent of unwanted pregnancies end in abortion in Colombia. But because abortion is illegal – except in cases of rape, incest or where the life of the mother or foetus is at risk – these terminations are carried out illegally. Of the estimated 400,000 abortions carried out each year, fewer than 350 are legal and performed in clinics or hospitals. The vast majority are ‘back-street’ abortions which put a woman’s health in great danger.

Thousands of Colombian women are left with long-term and debilitating injuries after undergoing abortions with untrained medical staff, often in unsanitary conditions. According to the report, as many as one-fifth of these women suffer from complications, with women and girls in poor rural areas particularly at risk. Each year, the country’s health system treats over 90,000 cases of women who are suffering abortion-related complications. Some of these are caused by the misuse of misoprostol, a drug which induces contractions of the uterus.

The authors of the study call on the government to protect women by improving family planning services in Colombia. This would also reduce the burden on the health service in having to deal with the complications caused by unsafe and illegal abortions, since many women are not covered by any kind of health insurance. Speakers at the UNFPA conference will also be calling on governments to improve services, emphasising that reproductive health is a basic human right. They will also draw attention to the greater economic development of countries where women are able to make choices about how many children they have and when they have them. But more importantly, access to good reproductive health is seen as vital to saving many lives of women across the world.

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