Global policy change and women's access to safe abortion: the impact of the World Health Organization's guidance in Africa

Leila Hessini, Eunice Brookman-Amissah, Barbara B Crane
African Journal of Reproductive Health 2006, 10 (3): 14-27
Along with governments from around the world, African leaders agreed at the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in 1994 to address unsafe abortion as a major public health problem. At the five-year review of the ICPD, they decided further that health systems should make safe abortion services accessible for legal indications. Based on this mandate, the World Health Organization (WHO) developed norms and standards for quality abortion services, Safe Abortion: Technical and Policy Guidance for Health Systems, released in 2003. While abortion-related maternal mortality and morbidity remains very high in many African countries, stakeholders are increasingly using WHO recommendations in conjunction with other global and regional policy frameworks, including the African Union Protocol on the Rights of Women in Africa, to spur new action to address this persistent problem. Efforts include: reforming national laws and policies; preparing service-delivery guidelines and regulations; strengthening training programs; and expanding community outreach programs. This paper reviews progress and lessons learned while drawing attention to the fragility of the progress made thus far and the key challenges that remain in ensuring access to safe abortion care for all African women.

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