We have seen how pandemics negatively impact access to reproductive health services, especially access to safe abortion. As the pandemic spread globally, MAMA Network saw a growing demand for self-managed abortion and access to telemedicine across Africa.
As a Network we have seen how the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted availability and access to safe abortion medication and contraceptives. Transport is less accessible. Clinics have reduced hours or are closed. Services are more expensive and community activities are on hold.
MAMA Network is a regional movement of activists working to share evidence-based and stigma-free information about self-managed medical abortion.
Sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) information is shared with women at the community level across Sub-Saharan Africa.
In 2016, MAMA network was founded by Trust for Indigenous Culture and Health (TICAH) in Kenya and Women Help Women. Over the years, the network has supported organizations in their efforts to increase access to safe abortion services and information. This is possible through mentorship, coaching, trainings, sharing of information, joint activism and creating spaces for linking and learning.
The pandemic led to an increase in demand for self-managed abortion, post abortion care, contraceptives and telemedicine or tele-counseling. In May 2020, we launched three hotlines in Cameroon, DRC and in Zambia. This brings the total of hotlines in the network to 9 including Nigeria, Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi and Uganda. MAMA Network’s approach to telemedicine and tele-counseling trusts women to have autonomy over their bodies.
In Kenya, Aunty Jane Hotline (launched in 2012) provides reliable, safe and confidential information to save women’s lives.
The hotline is toll-free since 2018. Recently women calling the hotline faced difficulties in accessing misoprostol in pharmacies due to global shortage of commodities. Women who accessed services, said they were asked to pay between $90 and $250. Before COVID-19, services in private clinics were $30. Online campaigns by Aunty Jane Hotline have intensified, including virtual meetings and strategies to strengthen collaboration with service providers.
In Nigeria, Ms. Rosy Hotline (launched in 2014) is toll-free since 2016 and operates 24 hours daily. The hotline has received approximately 135,000 calls from across Nigeria. Aunt Kaki was launched in Uganda in 2017. In Tanzania, Shangazi Shani was launched in 2018. Women Help Women’s online platform also exists to assist women and girls from all over the world.
In Uvira, DRC Congo, MAMA partner organizations have supported at least 10 women to access safe abortion in recent weeks. The rise in transportation costs has created barriers in accessing reproductive health services. With secure communication; a WhatsApp group is used to record community cases and refer to nearby healthcare providers and clinics. Community champions are doing home delivery of pills, one on one counseling, and follow ups. They have noticed a spike in the demand of pregnancy prevention methods in the Uvira region.
Changed Women Project in Zambia offers in-person services on a case by case basis. “Public hospitals are overwhelmed, women and girls are not going to hospitals. They are sent back due to congestion and go back to quacks because they can’t be helped,” a representative said. In the previous week a girl in the community unsafely induced an abortion and suffered serious complications. Changed Women stepped in and assisted her to go for post abortion care at a government hospital.
MAMA Network has remained active to shine a light on the importance of access to information and services for safe abortion.
On May 28th, the International Day of Action for Women’s Health, we ran a campaign receiving support from 10 countries and collected 56 photos of solidarity with the hashtag #AbortionBeyondLockDown. The purpose of the campaign highlighted that despite the lockdown, safe abortion remains an essential service.
MAMA Network has also continued to implement capacity building webinars, providing necessary tools to support activists and actively fundraise to support community based organizations. These efforts have been successful and we expect to launch 4 more hotlines in 4 countries in the coming weeks.
MAMA Network (Mobilizing Activists around Medical Abortion) is a collaboration of grassroots activists and feminist groups based in Sub-Saharan Africa. MAMA Network is a Safe Abortion Action Fund grantee partner.