Experts discuss effects of unsafe practices on aspects of women's reproductive health, highlight challenges

Dina Ezzat , Sunday 4 Jun 2017


A recent conference on women’s reproductive health warned of growing trends of violence against women of an increased pursuit of largely unsafe abortion.

“We need to worry more about what the implications of violence against women’s health are and we do need to look at the many aspects of the violence that girls and women are subjected to both physical and psychological, with an eye on the impact thereof on women’s overall health,” said Hesham Ashour, obstetrician and  professor of gynecology at the University  of Cologne.  

Ashour was speaking in the annual conference for gynecologists and obstetricians, that was organized on the first week of May in Cairo by the medical school of Ain Shams University.

The conference was attended by hundreds of practicing doctors and several international renowned experts, including  Charles Chapron from France and  and Vasilois Tanos from  Nicosia. 

Ashour  reviewed what he  described as alarming figures that had been shared by UNICEF and UN Women about the physical pain and psychological wounds that girls and women in Egypt have to face starting with the still highly disturbing practice of female genital mutilation (FGM) which recent gov figures in 2016 outs at  over 90 percent.

Ashour quoted UNICEF figures to warn that when it comes to FGM, Egypt would come second only to Somalia in a practice that is inevitably damaging to girls’ and women’s bodies and spirit.

While Acknowledging the state campaigns on this and other matters related to women’s physical and psychological wellbeing, Ashour said there is much more to be done to reduce the hazards that girls and women have to face throughout their lives.

Ashour also discussed the many forms of domestic violence and the unfortunate poor quality and sometimes denied access to health care that women get during before and during pregnancy and during and after giving birth.

He argued that in this respect some crucial matters have to be examined carefully including sexual harassment, rape and forced marriages.

Also speaking in the opening session of the two-day conference, Ahmed Rashed, also professor of gynecology and obstetrician warned of the growing need to reduce hazards of  abortion, which is sought by many without enough safe measures.

Experts at the conference said that although there are no official statistics on abortion in Egypt,  however, some  suggested that they were around a quarter million a year.

According to article 262 of the Penal Code, in Egypt the law bans abortion. Doctors performing the procedure can get three to 15 years in prison, and a woman who goes willingly into induced abortion could be prison sentenced to six months to three years. This fosters the idea of resorting to unauthorized doctors and unsafe methods of unsafe abortions.
Rashed acknowledged perception of abortion as a matter of a "feminist right" but argued that this perception “cannot be overstretched” to either compensate for the lack of accessible contraceptives or for “potential purposes of medical experimenting on stem cell therapy”.

In his presentation, Rashed acknowledged that using partially developed fetus to provide the otherwise legitimate stem cell therapy is only at its very early elementary stages and had only been put to test in very few contexts.

However, he shared a fear that the growing interest in such highly rewarding experiments may actually provoke excessive encouragement of abortions in third world countries to allow for wide scale trials.

“I am not saying it is happening and I am not sure whether and where it could happen but we have learned through experience that often enough it is the poor world wide who end up being subject to un-informed medical trials; and this is my fear, long term and this is why I worry about unchecked access to abortion,” Rashed said.

He added that originally, this resolve to early termination of pregnancies, in the case of Egypt, is a byproduct of incidents of unwanted and unplanned pregnancies “in so many contexts”.

“The feminist debate aside, abortion is not a walk in a park; even if conducted by well-trained medical doctors in properly equipped hospitals they are never all safe and they do come with more health hazards that go beyond the incidents of immediate excessive bleeding – this is not to mention the possibly psychological consequences,” he said.

Acting to provide “adequate health advice and convenient family planning services all across the country to all couples irrespective of their health care budgets” is something that Rashed said to be “an essential step towards the elimination of increased resolve to resort to abortions – safe or otherwise”.

Providing budgets and policies was also a matter that Ashour stressed in his remarks on the need to act to cut down the levels of violence to which girls and women are subjected.

Away from the debate over violence against women and the levels of abortion, the two-day conference, which was attended by hundreds of practicing doctors and  several international renowned experts, offered good news for women pursuing medically assisted reproduction – at many ages.

Speakers shared information on new ways to help couples pursue easier assisted pregnancy both through medication and surgical intervention.

“I would say that this is a path that is seeing considerable development at a very rapid scae and I would say that for the most part we in Egypt are keeping up with the advances made in this respect,” said Rashed.

Also on the agenda of the two-day conference was a debate on the advancement related to help women going through menopause to maintain good physical and psychological health.

There too, Ashour noted, there has to be more attention dedicated to the medical services that women need at this point, especially but not exclusively, services for the early detection and prevention of common health problems both benign and malignant.

Other matters discussed during the seminar included : benefits versus risks of terminating pregnancy in the 3rd trimester; smoking and pregnancy outcome; evaluation of cervical cancer screening in governorates of Upper Egypt.
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