On Tuesday, May 21st, Police officers raided a Marie Stopes Clinic in Lagos, harassed the health workers and patients and took away confidential client information. Marie Stopes offers free and affordable family planning services to women and men, pregnancy tests, pre- and post-natal care, treatment and services for sexually transmitted infections (STI), HIV testing and ultrasound and laboratory services. They have trained staff who offer counselling and treatment especially to those who cannot afford the costs at private hospitals. To raid a centre that provides such services is sending a message to women and girls as well as men and boys that they are not safe in health centres and that they don’t deserve access to quality health services without fear or judgement.
This is happening in a country that contributes 10% to the global burden of maternal deaths ranking fourth after Sierra Leone, Chad and the Central African Republic. Safe spaces where women can access confidential and non-judgemental sexual and reproductive health services are vital and we don’t have enough of them to reduce the risk of maternal deaths. Just before the raid in Lagos yesterday, the Minister of Health was testifying before the Nigerian Senate about the overburdened health system, the deplorable state of General Hospitals in the country and the need to revitalize the tertiary and primary health care system in Nigeria. Women and girls are dying from preventable deaths because of lack of access to quality sexual and reproductive health services.
Recently released NDHS 2018 data state: “Unmet need for family planning declined from 20% in 2008 to 16% in 2013 before increasing to 19% in 2018.” Family planning is the conscious choice by people to limit or space the number of children they have through the use of contraception. And 19% of married women in Nigeria have an unmet need for family planning services, according to the survey. Marie Stopes shouldn’t be punished for offering a spectrum of services, including family planning, to those who need and want it, especially women, married and unmarried.
The work being done by organisations like Marie Stopes is necessary to dispel myths, provide counselling on the right modern method of birth control and help women and men space their children. The National Strategic Health Development Plan 2018 – 2022 recognizes the importance of this work, which is why one of its pillars is to “Promote universal access to comprehensive quality sexual and reproductive health services throughout the life cycle and reduce maternal, neonatal, child and adolescent morbidity and mortality in Nigeria.”
Marie Stopes’ work is supporting the government in making sure Nigeria can achieve the targets to reduce morbidity and mortality, which means improving the health and wellbeing of women and girls in Nigeria. We should be celebrating their efforts, not intimidating them.
Ten percent (10%) of maternal deaths in Nigeria is due to unsafe abortion. Access to safe abortion is restricted in Nigeria, and can only take place in circumstances where a woman’s life is at risk. Even though safe abortion services are restricted, access to post-abortion care (a service for women and girls who have medical complication as a result of unsafe abortion) is not restricted. Nigerian laws and policies uphold women and girls’ rights to post-abortion services, a much needed service that Marie Stopes provides. Services providers who are implementing these policies and guidelines should not be subjected to harassment and intimidation for performing their jobs. These healthcare workers are providing care and saving lives; actions that should be praised and promoted.
These efforts to demonize and block access to legal services are being funded in Nigeria by a Spanish organisation called CitizenGO. CitizenGo is a partner to an SPLC designated hate group World Congress of Families and the city of Madrid has banned their activities calling their campaigns hate based. CitizenGo and its extremist partners have been organising trainings in Nigeria and Kenya within the past 18 months, trying to block women’s access to critical healthcare. They should not be allowed to instigate the harassment of women making informed choices about their health, and health workers who are provided life-affirming services. They are an intolerant group and they are bringing their hate mongering to Nigeria.
This group has set-up camp in Nigeria and are propagating false and unfounded sensational narratives in places like Enugu, Imo, and Nairobi under the guise of religious and moral obligations. They must not be allowed to instigate hate and oppression in Nigeria and the rest of Africa. This is a coordinated attack on the rights of women, girls, and marginalized persons and we must say NO to their oppressive tactics.
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