Abortion-related complications are one of the five main causes of maternal mortality. However, research about abortion is very limited in fragile and conflict-affected settings. Our study aims to describe the magnitude and severity of abortion-related complications in two referral hospitals supported by Médecins Sans Frontières and located in such settings in northern Nigeria and Central African Republic (CAR).
We used a methodology similar to the World Health Organization (WHO) near-miss approach adapted in the WHO multi-country study on abortion (WHO-MCS-A). We conducted a cross-sectional study in the two hospitals providing comprehensive emergency obstetric care. We used prospective medical records’ reviews of women presenting with abortion-related complications between November 2019 and July 2021. We used descriptive analysis and categorized complications into four mutually exclusive categories of increasing severity.
We analyzed data from 520 and 548 women respectively in Nigerian and CAR hospitals. Abortion complications represented 4.2% (Nigerian hospital) and 19.9% (CAR hospital) of all pregnancy-related admissions. The severity of abortion complications was high: 103 (19.8%) and 34 (6.2%) women were classified as having severe maternal outcomes (near-miss cases and deaths), 245 (47.1%) and 244 (44.5%) potentially life-threatening, 39 (7.5%) and 93 (17.0%) moderate, and 133 (25.6%) and 177 (32.3%) mild complications, respectively in Nigerian and CAR hospitals. Severe bleeding/hemorrhage was the main type of complication in both settings (71.9% in the Nigerian hospital, 57.8% in the CAR hospital), followed by infection (18.7% in the Nigerian hospital, 27.0% in the CAR hospital). Among the 146 women (Nigerian hospital) and 231 women (CAR hospital) who did not report severe bleeding or hemorrhage before or during admission, anemia was more frequent in the Nigerian hospital (66.7%) compared to the CAR hospital (37.6%).
Our data suggests high severity of abortion-related complications in these two referral facilities of fragile and conflict-affected settings. Factors that could contribute to this high severity in these contexts include greater delays in accessing post-abortion care, decreased access to contraceptive and safe abortion care that result in increased unsafe abortions; as well as increased food insecurity leading to iron-deficiencies and chronic anaemia. The results highlight the need for better access to safe abortion care, contraception, and high quality postabortion care to prevent and manage complications of abortion in fragile and conflict-affected settings.