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Honoring International Women’s Day 2020

Burundi 2013 © Martina Bacigalupo/VU
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Providing sexual and reproductive health care to women and girls is an integral part of our work. Our teams offer pre- and postnatal care, as well as emergency obstetrics. In 2018, we assisted more than 309,000 births, including Caesarean sections. We know that most maternal deaths occur just before, during, or just after delivery. So timely access to qualified staff can be a question of life or death for women experiencing complications during childbirth. MSF works to remedy the 'three delays' women face in receiving care during childbirth: the delay in deciding to seek care, the delay in reaching a health center, and the delay in receiving adequate treatment.

We also offer a range of contraception options to women at our projects. Providing contraception can help prevent death and injury by reducing the number of unplanned pregnancies, which can be dangerous for women with little access to health care. Greater access to contraception helps reduce the number of unsafe abortions.

Unsafe abortions remain a leading cause of maternal mortality worldwide. About 97 per cent of unsafe abortions and related deaths occur in Africa, Latin America, and southern and western Asia, all regions where MSF offers medical assistance to people in need. We know that when a woman or girl is determined to end her pregnancy she will do so, regardless of the safety and legality of the procedure. We see the devastating consequences every day. In 2017, MSF teams treated more than 22,000 patients with post-abortion complications—including severe hemorrhage, sepsis (severe general infection), poisoning, uterine perforation, or damage to other internal organs. MSF is working to improve access to safe abortion care for women and girls who need it. 


Video: How I became passionate about safe abortion care

We also highlight the harmful impacts of the Global Gag Rule—a US policy reinstated and expanded in 2017 to prevent health providers around the world from even speaking about abortion or making referrals to other organizations that provide safe abortion care. The latest version of the Global Gag Rule is even more sweeping than earlier rounds, as it applies restrictions on all US-funded global health assistance, not only aid to organizations involved in family planning. 

MSF also cares for women and girls who have been victims of sexual violence. Women and adolescent girls living in conflict situations, in refugee camps, or on the run are particularly vulnerable to sexual violence. Sexual violence may be used by warring parties as a deliberate strategy to punish or control communities; by border guards abusing their power; or by human smugglers in coerced exchange for food and other basic needs. Sexual violence is a medical emergency that can lead to sexually transmitted infections, such as HIV, unwanted pregnancies, and long-term mental health consequences. In 2018, MSF provided medical treatment to nearly 25,000 victims of sexual violence. We also offer psychosocial counseling to survivors.