Treating the complications that result from unsafe abortion costs Africa and Latin America $227–280 million each year, according to a new study from the Guttmacher Institute. These costs (reported in 2006 US$) place a considerable added strain on struggling national health systems in Africa and Latin America, which spend an estimated $490 million annually treating complications from pregnancies and births. Moreover, unsafe abortion costs the developing world at least $341 million when the Asian and Pacific regions are taken into account.
Using two approaches—a World Health Organization model and a comparison of 20 empirical studies—the authors calculated that on average, treating postabortion complications costs an estimated $83 per patient in Africa and $94 in Latin America. When overhead and capital costs are included, these averages jump to $114 for Africa and $130 for Latin America, which are significant burdens for developing country clinics and hospitals.
“Because virtually all unsafe abortions are a direct consequence of unwanted pregnancies, the costs calculated in this study result from the failure to prevent those pregnancies through family planning or, where legal, to terminate them safely,” said lead author Michael Vlassoff, a senior research associate at the Guttmacher Institute. “Unsafe abortions are a significant cause of maternal mortality and threaten women’s health in these regions and around the world.”
Globally, 15–25% of women who need hospital-based care for complications from unsafe abortion never receive it. If these women had access to the services they needed, the costs to health care systems would at least double, the authors point out. Currently, an unknown number of women who never receive treatment suffer lifelong consequences or die from their complications, a grave illustration of the social and medical costs of unsafe abortion.
The authors urge governments to take into account the direct system costs of unsafe abortion and to compare them with the much lower costs of measures that could prevent unintended pregnancy and unsafe abortion—namely, providing contraceptive services and ensuring access to safe abortion where it is legal.
“Measures can be taken to better protect women’s health while also reaping the benefits of significant cost savings,” Vlassoff concluded.
The study, “Estimates of Health Care System Costs of Unsafe Abortion in Africa and Latin America” appears in the September 2009 issue of International Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health.