Shaping minds in Uganda: starting a debate on abortion with medical students of Kampala

Analyzing the situation in Uganda

When looking into addressing issues around abortion globally, connecting with local partners is one of safe2choose’s main instruments. We believe that working with those who have the knowledge and the expertise of their own countries is the best way to raise awareness and to find ways of improving access to quality care. This includes reaching out to medical providers and even better, to medical students.

Even in very restrictive legal contexts, schools remain a place of questioning and one of the driving forces for social change. Globally, safe2choose and Medical Students for Choice (MSFC) have initiated partnerships and thanks to their network of students throughout Africa, we were able to gather students and alumni that are now doctors for a round-table discussion in Kampala, Uganda.

Together with the medical students, we talked about the situation of unsafe abortions in the country and we’ve started brainstorming strategies to improve access to safe products and procedures. Uganda’s median age is about 16 years old and the population is facing high instances of unplanned pregnancies. Close to 52% of pregnancies are unwanted and happen among a very young population, putting young girls and women at risk.

Statistics from the Guttmacher Institute show that 14% of pregnancies in Uganda end in induced abortions. Unfortunately, legal restrictions and a deliberate confusion on the laws interpretation undermines women’s access to their rights. Not only that, it also stops medical staff from performing the procedures freely. (1)

From drinking kerosene to inserting sharp objects in their uterus, studies and health professionals indicate that women are misinformed on the safe methods and on their legal rights. As a result, unsafe abortions answer for a total of 8% of all maternal deaths in the country.

Inviting Medical Students to challenge their personal beliefs

During the event, young minds from Kampala got a chance to be individually challenged and to reconsider their personal opinions on abortion. Their involvement in the MSFC network is already a proof of their interest in making a difference towards protecting women’s reproductive rights, but many of them still struggled with some deeply-rooted stigmas.

A large parcel of the group strongly believed that women should not have second trimester abortions and that medical providers shouldn’t be forced to perform the abortion procedure if it were against their own values. We are proud to say we were able to start some debate that will contribute to reducing stigmas and spreading accurate evidence-based information.

Before us, stood some of the most educated people of Uganda. The future generation of doctors in the country! It was a big opportunity to make a sustainable impact that will reverberate through the region, be it in universities, in health facilities or in the community as a whole.

An action plan was created for 2018, which will be focused on providing additional training to the rest of the medical students’ network at their universities. They have all committed themselves to spread the word and to set up more awareness events. Their willingness to learn and to change the country’s old customs is exciting to see. Medical Students For Choice has many other chapters throughout the world and safe2choose hopes to reach out to them in different countries.

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(1) Guttmacher Institute.