The Sunday Mail
Twenty-three year old Madeline Nyambabvu (not real name) was mature enough to become a mother until she got into an altercation with her boyfriend which led to their separation.
She was four months pregnant and had to get rid of the antenatal condition but she could not go to the hospital because abortion is illegal.
Desperate and running out of time, a backyard abortion was her last resort.
She recalls with vivid detail the excruciating pain she went through when she attempted an abortion a month ago.
Despite being warned about stomach cramps and bleeding she would have to endure, nothing prepared her for the nightmare she went through.
“I got tablets from a lady at Mbare Musika for US$10, who referred me to a doctor (name withheld) from a major hospital on how I should administer them. Besides the $10 in hard currency, I also paid the doctor $100 in local currency,” she reminisced.
She added that the doctor asked her a few questions related to the length of her pregnancy and her age before explaining to her that he (doctor) would administer the tablets and that the process to terminate the pregnancy took a least six hours.
“The doctor said abortion was a painful process and there was a need to have painkillers at hand and assured me that if anything goes wrong they would smuggle me into the hospital for treatment,” she said.
But after taking the tablets, things did not go according to plan. She started bleeding, a flow not as heavy as she expected.
The now frail Madeline continued: “The tablets had killed the baby and it remained in my womb only to give birth to a blackish object two months later.”
The tablets, according to medical experts that The Sunday Mail talked to, are a medication used to prevent and treat stomach ulcers, start labour, cause an abortion, and treat postpartum bleeding due to poor contraction of the uterus.
Illegal street doctors are now cashing-in on the tablets that have now flooded the market.
Backyard abortions are becoming a thriving business in Harare, with the operations bringing together a motley crew of operators and middlemen such as hairdressers, health practitioners from the prime hospitals and “doctors” who are cashing in on the rising demand, an investigation by The Sunday Mail Society revealed.
One of the drugs being peddled by these syndicates is popularly known as “chigeza mudumbu” and is readily available from a cartel of suppliers that use a network of other dealers to recruit clients.
In an effort to trace the origin of the drugs, The Sunday Mail Society contacted a woman, who pushes the tablets. The lady (name withheld) is the same person who sold the tablets to Madeline and operates from a dilapidated makeshift salon at Mbare Musika.
She would not disclose the source of the pills until further inquiries revealed she obtains the tablets from a major hospital and sometimes from selected pharmacies around the city through a syndicate.
The lady explained: “The drug is used to induce preterm labour and an abortion. We get the tablets from pharmacists, who sell them to us for US$5 and we sell them for US$10.”
She said the majority of their clients are women aged between 18 and 24.
“We don’t administer the tablets ourselves, but we refer you to professionals,” she said.
Health practitioners from public hospitals are major players in the thriving backyard abortions market, she added. Some were now even renting apartments in the CBD where the abortions take place, an indication that demand for their services was high.
“In case the procedure does not go according to plan, the women are smuggled into health centres for treatment,” Madeline revealed.
But there is an even darker side to the abortion business. Women who cannot afford to pay a doctor or buy the drugs resort to taking an overdose of laxatives whilst others are said to use a mixture of a soft drink and soda, whilst some get concoctions from herbalists and traditional healers.
A Harare gynaecologist, Dr Francis Chimanda, said most women were resorting to backyard abortions because of poverty.
“There are more girls who are resorting to illegal abortions because of poverty,” he said. “Most of them also lack proper information about contraceptives, hence, the unwanted pregnancies.”
The doctor said the women risked psychological trauma, womb infections, life-threatening bleeding and infertility.
A 2016 study by Plus-One established that four in 10 Zimbabwean women that terminated pregnancies experienced serious complications and only half of them received treatment. And another recent research indicates that at least 70 000 women in Zimbabwe risk death by carrying out illegal abortions every year.
A United Nations’ Children’s Fund study also reports that, Zimbabwean women are 200 times more likely to die of abortion complications compared to their South African counterparts, where the practice is legal.
Activists say more women are likely to die attempting abortion in future and it is high time the Government revisited legislation on termination of pregnancies, which has been described as outdated.
But church leaders are on record likening abortion to murder. “The Bible condemns abortion, as it is a termination of human life, the commandments talk about not to kill,” Archibishop Johannes Ndanga said.
In terms of the Termination of Pregnancy Act, abortion is only allowed in cases where the procedure is meant to save the life of a pregnant woman or in cases of rape, incest or foetal impairment.