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Health ministry developing sexual and reproductive health policy

Thursday, October 25, 2018

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KINGSTON, Jamaica — The Ministry of Health is pursuing the development of a Sexual and Reproductive Health Policy, which will create a framework for identifying effective strategies to reduce maternal mortality rates.

The framework will focus on strengthening the linkages between obstetric and non-communicable disease programmes and review the Ministry's capacity within the health sector to respond effectively to cases of unsafe abortions.

This was disclosed by Portfolio Minister, Dr Christopher Tufton, during the sitting of the House of Representatives on Tuesday.

“Jamaica is committed to reducing the maternal mortality rate to less than 70 per 100,000 live births by the year 2030. In 2016, the maternal mortality ratio was 110.6/100,000 live births,” Dr Tufton said.

He noted that based on data available, the most common causes of maternal deaths are pregnancy-induced hypertension; obstetric haemorrhage; diseases of the cardiovascular system; abortions (spontaneous and induced); ectopic pregnancy; diabetes mellitus; sickle cell disease; obstetric infection; and cancer.

The health minister was making his contribution on a motion calling on the Government to take steps to repeal sections 72 and 73 of the Offences Against the Person Act, which makes abortion illegal.

The motion was brought by Member of Parliament for West Rural St Andrew, Juliet Cuthbert Flynn.
Tufton informed that in 2016, there were 1,177 admissions to the Victoria Jubilee Hospital for complications threatening the viability of a pregnancy.

These, he said, included incomplete, inevitable and threatened pregnancies, spontaneous abortions as well as induced termination of pregnancy.

He noted that 47 or four per cent of these patients were admitted with complications of either a failed attempt or completed induced termination of pregnancy.

“For the maternal mortality rate to be fully understood, more information is required on the circumstances in which the termination of a pregnancy occurs. Misuse of drugs available on the black market to induce abortions and the procuring of surgical services that are unsafe may result in serious complications such as haemorrhage and infections that can result in increased mortality,” Tufton said.

He advised that persons exposed to unsafe abortion practices and suffer complications, or persons who have induced abortions and start to show signs of aborting such as bleeding or cramping, should go to the public hospitals for treatment.

In 1975, a ministerial policy paper was established under which registered medical practitioners could terminate a pregnancy.

The document, Tufton said, which was tabled in the House of Representatives in January that year, intended for the relevant sections of the Offences Against the Person Act to be amended to provide clarity “as to the circumstances in which abortions could be lawfully performed in Jamaica and to include rape, carnal abuse and incest as lawful grounds for abortion”.

The health minister said as the law was never amended to achieve the objectives, an abortion policy review advisory group was established by the health ministry in 2005.

The final report of the Ministry of Health, Jamaica, Abortion Policy Review Advisory Group was laid on the table of the Lower House in January 2008.

“Given the concerns, and certainly from a public health perspective…. I believe that the time is now right for us to find a way, through a joint committee, to review that report. Pull that report back from the Hansard… review the recommendations of that committee and if there's a need to add further work, then we add further work in terms of consultation,” Tufton said.

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