She is making a killing—literally—through conducting abortions in Mtakataka in Dedza, leaving three girls in serious condition after ‘operations’ went horribly wrong, Nation on Sunday has established.
Another girl died in the area following abortion-related complications, according to a chief.
It is a costly business that evokes the debate on whether legalising abortion would give women a safe way out of their troubles with unwanted pregnancies.
In Dedza, illegal and unsafe abortions are so rampant that from December 2013 to February 2014, Mua Mission Hospital alone registered 51 cases.
When 15-year-old Joyce fell pregnant in February 2014, she knew she would be in trouble with her parents.
That is when she decided to turn to the ‘abortion queen’ in the area to help her terminate the pregnancy.
We have withheld the identity of the woman who conducts illegal abortions, so we will call her the abortion queen.
Joyce wishes she had kept the baby.
“My friends told me about the woman who they said would help me abort. The woman inserted a stick in my private parts. That was all and I paid K2 000 (US$5) for the service,” said Joyce, a Standard Eight pupil whose real identity we have also withheld.
Joyce said two days later, she began bleeding profusely. She was rushed to Mua Mission Hospital in the district where she was given emergency medical care that saved her life.
But all is not well with Joyce because the bleeding has not stopped.
“Now things are improving. I bleed once or twice a day. This is much better than before,” she said.
Because of the condition, Joyce said she stopped going to school. In addition to the pain that prevents her from attending classes, another reason she opted out of school is that other students mock her about the condition.
A 16-year-old girl in the area also finds herself in serious problems after seeking the services of the abortion queen.
“I visited her and she inserted a stick in my private parts. She told me that after a day or two, I would start bleeding which happened.
“When I reached home, everything was fine, but during the night I began feeling pain. I couldn’t sleep. I was bleeding. I could not stand on my own,” said the girl, a Form Two student.
She said in the morning, her sister took her to Makhwawa Health Centre where doctors referred her to Mua Mission Hospital.
Today, her condition has improved, but she struggles to walk because of pain, according to her sister.
“This week, her condition has improved; she can eat and talk properly. Even the bleeding is abating. But she is not well enough to return to school,” said the sister who did not want to be identified.
When Nation on Sunday confronted her, the abortion queen, 34, admitted that she has been helping women in the area to abort since 2013.
“It was my grandmother who taught me how to help people abort. When I was 15 years old, a man impregnated me. My grandmother gave me a stick that I inserted in my private parts and in three days I had aborted,” said the abortion queen, who lives in Traditional Authority (T/A) Kachindamoto in the district.
She said so far she has helped three girls who were referred to Mua Mission Hospital for medical treatment.
“I use a plastic bag when I am inserting the stick in the vagina. Within two days, you start bleeding,” she said.
At the heart of the contentious abortion issue is the law. Specifically, it is Section 243 of the Penal Code—which restricts lawful abortion only to instances where the life of the mother is at risk—that angers experts and advocates.
Those pushing for legal reform argue that the restrictive law encourages women to seek unsafe and costly abortion options.
A study conducted by the Ministry of Health in 2011 found that 70 500 women have abortions every year. Of these, about half are aged below 25 years.
The study also found that four out of five women who engage in abortion are married and almost two thirds live in rural areas.
The review established that 31 000 of these women are treated for complications arising from unsafe abortions.
The study also found that 17 percent of maternal deaths in Malawi occur as a result of unsafe abortions.
According to the Ministry of Health, the cost of post-abortion care puts enormous pressure on public health facilities that bear the brunt of the problem. It is estimated that post-abortion care in Malawi costs $300 000 (K126 million) to $500 000 (K210 million) annually.
A paper titled Issues Related to Unsafe Abortion in Malawi by College of Medicine gynaecologist Dr Edgar Kachingale says post-abortion care constitutes 60-70 percent of gynaecological admissions to Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital in Blantyre.
Experts and advocates say reforming the law will enhance Malawi’s ability to achieve the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) on reducing maternal and child mortality from the current 675 deaths per 100 000 live births to the targeted 155 deaths per 100 000 live births.
Activists are seeking a review of the abortion laws to align them with the recommendations of the African Union (AU) on women’s rights, the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Maputo Plan of Action to which Malawi is a signatory.
Had the legal review been done, it could perhaps have helped another 16-year-old girl in Dedza.
The girl, also a Form Two student in the area, aborted in January this year with the help of the abortion queen.
“I decided to get rid of the pregnancy because my mother would not accept it. I went to the same woman [abortion queen]. She helped me to abort, but I fell ill. I was bleeding continuously. I was referred to Mua Mission Hospital where I was admitted.
“Now I feel much better. I thank God for saving my life,” said the girl, who aborted a three-week-old pregnancy.
She said she has dropped out of school because other students mock her. She said she is now looking for another school.
Village Head Mwaiwaza said abortion is so rampant in Dedza that in December a 16-year-old girl in his area died after seeking abortion services from another woman in the area.
“The girl just started bleeding. We referred her to Mua Mission Hospital, but we lost her. I reported the woman who gave the drugs to abort to police who arrested her,” said Mwaiwaza.
He said abortions are a big problem in the area because many students are now dropping out of school.
“We have few girls who have gone as far as Form Four. Most of them have dropped out of school. We cannot attribute this to our culture because as chiefs we encourage them to go to school so that they get good jobs,” said Mwaiwaza.
Officer-in-charge for Mtakataka Police Unit Davis Kabambe said police received a tip-off from members of the community on illegal abortions, which led to the arrest of a woman.
“Yes, it is true that we have arrested Margaret Khobili from Mwaiwaza Village in T/A Kachindamoto in the district.
“It is alleged that this woman has been supplying drugs to girls to help them abort. We are still investigating the issue. Those involved will be arrested,” said Kabambe.
Records at Mua Mission Hospital indicate that from December 2013 to February 2014, the hospital registered 51 cases of criminal abortion, according to chief medical officer Dr Parfait Kileya.
“In December, we recorded 21 cases. From the age of 15 to 19, we registered four cases, from the age of 20 to 25 we registered six cases and for those aged 26 years and above we registered 11 cases.
“In January 2014, we had a total of 11 cases. All of them were coming here while bleeding,” said Kileya.
He said the hospital has been conducting meetings with chiefs to disseminate information on the risks of unsafe abortions.
Kileya said communities in the area do not encourage children to go to school—a factor he said is behind the rising cases of abortions.
“The problem is so rampant here. Already, we have done some initiatives, but we will fight until things change,” he said.