75% of all abortions in Africa are unsafe – World Health Organisation (WHO)

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), about 75% of all abortions in Africa are unsafe. It added that across the world, women in Africa have the highest risk of dying from unsafe abortion.


While the WHO recently raised alarm regarding unsafe abortion, the situation is most severe in Africa where abortion is largely unsafe and the risk of dying is highest but this does not mean that it is not a global crisis. According to the WHO, 45% of all abortions are unsafe.

The global health body said between 2015 and 2019, on average, 73.3 million induced (safe and unsafe) abortions occurred worldwide each year. It added that there were 39 induced abortions per 1000 women aged between 15–49 years.

“3 out of 10 (29%) of all pregnancies, and 6 out of 10 (61%) of all unintended pregnancies, ended in an induced abortion,” WHO stated.

These were some of the insights provided by a study that was published in The Lancet Global Health entitled “Unintended pregnancy and abortion by income, region, and the legal status of abortion: estimates from a comprehensive model for 1990–2019”.

In Africa, nearly half of all abortions happen in the least safe circumstances. Moreover, mortality from unsafe abortion disproportionately affects women in Africa. While the continent accounts for 29% of all unsafe abortions, it sees 62% of unsafe abortion-related deaths.

Estimates from 2006 show that, in developing countries, the yearly cost for health systems include US$ 553 million for treating complications from unsafe abortion; US$ 6 billion for treating post-abortion infertility. A need for an additional US$ 373 million, if unmet needs for treating complications from unsafe abortion were to be met.

Unsafe abortion can also lead to short- and long-term financial costs for women and ultimately entire families and communities. Annual cost estimates for developing countries include: US$ 200 million in out-of-pocket expenses of individuals and households, for the treatment of post-abortion complications, in sub-Saharan Africa alone; and US$ 922 million in loss of income as a result of long-term disability, due to infertility or pelvic inflammatory disease caused by unsafe abortion.

Health-care providers are obligated to provide life-saving medical care to any woman who suffers abortion-related complications, including treatment of complications from unsafe abortion, regardless of the legal grounds for abortion. However, in some cases, treatment of abortion complications is administered only on the condition that the woman provides information about the person(s) who performed the illegal abortion. 

“The practice of extracting confessions from women seeking emergency medical care as a result of illegal abortion puts women’s lives at risk. The legal requirement for doctors and other health-care personnel to report cases of women who have undergone abortion, delays care and increases the risks to women’s health and lives. UN human rights standards call on countries to provide immediate and unconditional treatment to anyone seeking emergency medical care,” WHO stated.

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