A partially blind woman is today two-weeks old in her grave for uterus damage, following backstreet abortion services she acquired to avoid giving birth for the sixth time.
Until her death, Evenesi Hamphreys Zembeni, 34, lived her life playing music to passers-by in exchange for alms alongside her blind husband on the foot-walks of Lilongwe bridge.
The mother of five, the youngest just under two-years old, was buried on an afternoon of May 10 in Kamwana village in Traditional Authority Mazengera’s area, a two-hours’ drive from Lilongwe city.
In an interview, the husband Hamphreys Zembeni revealed that his efforts to persuade his wife to keep the pregnancy proved futile as, “she was decided and determined to remove it at any cost”.
“She told me she did not want to have another baby as we already have five. She refused to go for antenatal clinics. Instead, she took me with her to my sisters place where she later told me that my brother-in-law gave her a concoction to remove the pregnancy,” Zembeni explained.
That was to start a journey of agony for the poor woman who, on reaching home, complained of abdominal pains and begun shivering to the discomfort of the husband and neighbours.
“She had been very healthy before all that. But when she took the concoction, things changed. She started shivering and I got scared. I said we would have to go to a public hospital and not a traditional medicine-man again and we went,” Zembeni said.
On being examined at Kamuzu Central Hospital, medics found a cassava stick inside her uterus, causing pus and “serious infection” invasion as the stick had punctured the uterus.
Kamuzu Central Hospital Director Dr. Nordeen Alide confirmed the development.
“She got pregnant and went seeking illegal abortion. She got infected and we could not save her life. As blind as she was, she could not sustain the pregnancy and ended up in this precarious situation. It is sad we could not save her life,” said Alide.
The incident has revived debate on the ever increasing impact of unsafe abortions on the poor population in a country where the law only allows access to safe abortion services in public health facilities in instances where the life of an expectant mother is said to be in danger.
“These are people who may not afford modern and safe means of acquiring abortion. These are people who do not know where such services can be accessed. These are the people who are dying. Those who have money and information are saved. This is most unfair. Our country should strike out laws that punish the poor only,” said a nurse at Ethel Mutharika Maternity Clinic on Thursday adding “this is an unnecessary cause of death”.
But Chairperson of the Coalition for Prevention of Unsafe Abortion (Copua) Darlington Harawa says Evenesi’s death should be blamed on Malawi’s failure to reform abortion laws.
“The death of the unfortunate woman who was financially and physically challenged is as a result of our legal and health system. We Malawians have killed this woman. We are all responsible for his death. The family needs to be compensated.
“The rich are able to access safe abortion services. The less privileged are going through unsafe abortion leading to the death of two to three women every single day. We seem not to care because they are poor and voice less,” Harawa said.
He further said Malawi should not be celebrating the death of women but instead look at reforming laws to allow the women who do not wish to keep their pregnancy terminate it rather than subject them to death.
“The irony with abortion is that whatever the laws in a country, a woman who decides to terminate pregnancy cannot be stopped. What we can we do is to help her access safe abortion services as she has already made a decision,” he said.
Malawi is a signatory to the Maputo Plan of Action- where states pledged to take steps to fight unsafe abortion which is also a violation of provisions in international instruments such as the Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and African Protocol on Women’s Rights.
President of a doctors’ Association in Malawi Dr. Edgar Kuchingale recently told the media and members of the Parliamentary Committee on Health that the country’s restrictive abortion laws were negatively impacting the lives of the majority poor who are without other options.
He pointed out that while the laws restrict abortion in Malawi to only saving lives of expectant women whose lives are in danger, a lot more other women with money are able to access safe abortion services from private clinics and pharmacies which the poor can hardly access.
“The laws are unfair and unjust because the poor people are the ones that are bearing the blunt. The rich and all other people who have money are getting away with it and staying alive but the poor are forced to seek backstreet help and are dying,” Kuchingale said.
Writing in a recent pastoral letter, the Catholic Church in Malawi condemns abortion and warns its members and others about its effects.
“One can never claim freedom of opinion as a pretext for attacking the rights of others, most especially the right to life. Therefore laws are imperative to prevent unjustified foetal killings. The law to be put into place in this regard should take this into account and not just settle for what is easy and convenient for the mother,” reads part of the statement dated March 2, 2013.
The Catholic Church accepts abortion only in “an instance of one human life opposed to another human life” such as in ectopic pregnancy.
At least 17 percent of all maternal deaths in Malawi are known to be a result of unsafe abortions.
BY GABRIEL KAMLOMO Sunday Times