By MIRIAM ZIMBA –
LUSAKA-BASED obstetrics and gynecology consultant Gertrude Tshuma has said the need to reduce maternal deaths through safe abortions, should not in the long-term lead to an increase in HIV infections.
In an interview with Times Health in Lusaka, Dr Tshuma said sexual behaviour of young people exposes them to unintended pregnancy but even worse, to acquisition of new HIV infections.
This follows the global pressure for nations to uphold human rights and provide safe abortion services to reduce maternal mortality.
“Therefore, intervention to try and reduce maternal mortality due to unsafe abortion must not influence the spread of HIV negatively,” she said.
Dr Tshuma said in 1996, when abortion was legalised in South Africa, it was reported to have had an immediate positive impact on the frequency of abortion-related complications.
“At the time in 1997, AIDS, Tuberculosis and other related infections contributed 18 per cent to maternal mortality,” she said.
“In the 2008-2010 report, slightly over 10 years from implementation of the termination of pregnancy act, though there is improvement with unsafe abortion, AIDS has not only doubled to 40.5 per cent but has become the major cause of maternal mortality in South Africa,” she added.
She said the high HIV prevalence adds to the risks associated with early sexual activity.
Dr Tshuma explained that this is compounded by the fact that young girls are more afraid of pregnancy than HIV.
Young people are disproportionately affected, accounting for almost two-thirds of the people living with HIV in the region.
Across Sub-Saharan Africa, HIV is spreading throughout the general population, with more young women being greatly affected in comparison with their male counterparts.
An estimated 4.3 per cent of women aged 15-24 in Sub-Saharan Africa are living with HIV, compared with 1.5 per cent of men in that age-group.
In South Africa, where abortion has been legal for almost a decade, almost five million in that country are infected with HIV, which accounts for about 10 per cent of the country’s population.
Dr Tshuma questioned whether countries in the SADC region may have been too quick to implement strategies in relation to unsafe abortion, and if there is need to revisit the issue of unsafe abortions.
“One girl may die from unsafe abortion but when the same girl acquires HIV, many more get infected and die,” she said.