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World Health Organization: Significant Decline in Deaths from Unsafe Abortion

Significantly fewer women are dying from unsafe abortion today, a sign that interventions to improve postabortion care are effective and save lives, according to a new report from the World Health Organization.

Between 2003 and 2008, deaths related to unsafe abortion fell about 16% globally-from 56,000 to 47,000-despite an overall increase in the number of unsafe abortions. Today, complications from unsafe abortion account for 13% of all maternal deaths. The vast majority of women dying from unsafe abortions are in the least developed countries, including parts of Sub-Saharan Africa. More than one-third of these deaths happen in countries with stringent abortion laws or where women have limited or no access to contraception.

One of those countries is Tanzania, where complications from abortion are a leading cause of maternal death. Through the ACQUIRE Tanzania Project (ATP), EngenderHealth has partnered with the Tanzanian government since 2004 to improve availability of services for comprehensive postabortion care (cPAC) in rural areas. Previously, these services were only available at regional hospitals, which were too far away for many women to receive timely emergency care.

Together with the Tanzanian Ministry of Health and Social Welfare, EngenderHealth's ATP is decentralizing cPAC services so that medical personnel at local health facilities are trained to treat complications from unsafe abortion. ATP also works with community leaders to reduce the stigma around abortion, which is illegal in Tanzania, so that community leaders can spread information about the availability of both cPAC and family planning services.

In addition to cPAC, ATP is expanding access to family planning nationwide, which is key to reducing unplanned pregnancies and pregnancy-related deaths. Indeed, between 2004 and 2009, maternal deaths in Tanzania dropped to 454 deaths per 100,000 live births (from 578 deaths per 100,000 in 2004), according to the 2010 Tanzania Demographic and Health Survey.

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