Young women turn to ulcer medication for abortion

  • Medics concerned over the rise of dying women using the drug for backstreet abortion
  • Minister open to legalization suggestions but calls for debates
  • Abortion rate in Botswana way above WHO limit of 12%


In the past, young women desperate to rid themselves of unwanted pregnancies would subject themselves to dangerous rituals in unsavory environments to complete abortions.
However, while abortion is still illegal in Botswana, this publication has established that pills used to rid unwanted pregnancies are now available over the counter in pharmacies, something that medical experts say increases incidents of unsafe abortions as this has given desperate women an illusion that it is safe to terminate their pregnancies.
Sources say this drug Cycotec (misoprostol), which is usually used to prevent stomach ulcers and for inducing labour in late pregnancies has now become a pill of choice for backstreet abortions. This is however said to have contributed to an increase in maternal deaths. Medics say because some women believe the pill is safe to use since it is easily accessible in health facilities, they do not seek medical attention after using it, which ends up creating an infection in the womb and ultimately dies when they delay seeking medical attention.
According to findings from the Ministry of Health and Wellness show that abortion related deaths remained high in 2015 and 2016 at 20% and 19% respectively, which is way above the World Health Organization (WHO) limit of 12%.
“It is very hard to regulate its use because it is not an illegal drug, it is actually prescribed in health facilities and used for other ailments. Our only option is to educate women so that they know cycotec doesn’t necessarily remove everything from the womb after you’ve used it. This creates a sore in the uterus and end up causing death threatening infections,” she said.
Speaking to The Botswana Gazette last week, the minister of Health and Wellness Dorcas Makgato said it is important for people to learn to take responsibility of their own health. “You need a prescription to take these pills but people connive with doctors or those that have access to it. It is a matter that we can address but it cannot be a matter for us to deal with alone at the ministry. It is something that we should educate people on and about the dangers of abortion. People also use pens to terminate pregnancies but we can’t ban pens so it is impossible to say everything that can be using to abort a pregnancy can be controlled,” she said. She further noted that she would be open to a discussion on the legalization of safe abortion and called for more debates on the issue.
According to WHO, ending the silent pandemic of unsafe abortions is an urgent public-health and human-rights imperative. “As with other more visible global-health issues, this scourge threatens women throughout the developing world. Every year, about 19–20 million abortions are done by individuals without the requisite skills or in environments below minimum medical standards, or both. Nearly all unsafe abortions (97%) are in developing countries. An estimated 68 000 women die as a result and millions more have complications, many permanent. Important causes of death include hemorrhage, infection, and poisoning.”