Gynecologist Doctor Swebby Macha says Zambian women must be sensitized that abortion is legal in the country so that they stop ending up in hospital for emergency surgery after puncturing their wombs and other organs.

And Ministry of Information Director for Press and Development Isaac Chipampe says it is unfortunate that political news has taken centre stage in Zambia.

Speaking at an IPAS organized media breakfast, Dr Macha said it was unfortunate that most women resorted to using cassava sticks and other traditional medicines to terminate unwanted pregnancies.

“There are quite a lot of cassava sticks being used but unfortunately, these are unskilled providers, they do not know the anatomy so they end up perforating the womb. To some extent, you have even damage to the bowels and we end up with very difficult operations to repair the damage. They also use herbal medicines, some healers give them something to drink which will cause some contractions and then expulsions but sometimes you find some products remain and that could be a source of bleeding and infection. We also have modern drugs, others taken chloroquine and quinine to terminate but any overdose of these can have a effect on the liver and can even kill the woman,” Dr Macha said.

“But we are seeing another method of termination, to some extent, it has helped reduce unsafe abortion, the abortion pill called Citotec, there are some people who access it and take it but the danger with self medication is you don’t know at what age you would be allowed to take the oral drugs because it is usually used for small pregnancies like eight weeks, six weeks, but you find someone takes abortion pill at five months and they end up bleeding heavily so there is need to sensitize that this pill should be under the supervision of a trained supervisor.”

Dr Macha, who said about 60 per cent of women admitted in the University of Zambia Teaching Hospital gynecology ward were there for abortion related complications, also told journalists that criminalizing abortion would prevent such women from seeking medical attention.

“Once I received an intern doctor and whenever he would see sticks suspected to have been used for abortion, he would walk to the police station to report so we called him and talked to him that once you criminalise this, the women will not be coming here to seek attention. Once again, when you criminalise abortion, you are making women not seek health services and they will be dying in the communities,” he said.

Dr Macha revealed that in his years of practice, he had never witnessed a woman excited to have an abortion.

“It is not about encouraging women to have terminations, no but preventing unintended pregnancies and apart from that, they should be aware about the law because you may even go round, the other time I had a presentation with our law enforcement officers, you find that some do not know that abortion is legal and even among ourselves, health providers, there are a number who don’t know, especially those outside my field of obstetrics and gyn, they just feel it is illegal. So I think the take home message is to sensitise the community on the law and encourage them to access long acting reversible contraceptives that will help prevent unintended pregnancy,” said Dr Macha.

“In my 20 years of practice, I have never seen a woman happy when undergoing a termination. They usually make very painful decisions. For a woman to decide to terminate, they would have thought through it and we also have to counsel them. It’s not that there is a health worker who is always looking out for termination, no. we provide a service because if we were to refuse on religious reasons, where are those women going to end up?”

And Chimpampe said it was unfortunate that political news had taken centre stage in Zambia.

“The media must tone down on political rhetoric and write more on challenges that personally affect the people and bring out information that may educate citizens, especially on their health. I am sure you agree with me that the media now has interpreted news to mean politics or vice versa which is unfortunate…but the news out there is buried inside the newspapers or not even covered at all. So let me ask for instance why stories on sexual reproductive health rarely appear on front pages of newspapers or headline broadcast news? Speaking as a journalist, such stories, as none appealing as they appear to be, affect so many of our citizens. The media should spark debate and steer discourse on issues that affect people. For instance, things to do with sex education or distribution of condoms and contraceptives in schools. The media should raise questions about abortion, the rights of the unborn babies and the rights of rape victims,” said Chipampe.

“Each time I am going for work I listen to the local news and then tune in to BBC and sometimes you see those disparities where international news focuses so much on these issues and presents it so attractively that you cannot avoid that kind of news. They bring out debate about issues to do with female prisoners and their babies in prison, the rights of babies. The babies are not accused but they end up in prison because their mothers have committed crimes, those are issues that must be debated by the media. The media must take keen interest in highlighting laws and policies that govern women’s rights and health.”

Meanwhile, Lusaka lawyer Muzi Kamanga said it was a good thing that the Referendum failed because the new Bill of Rights would have taken away some women’s freedoms by criminalizing abortion.