An estimated 56 million induced abortions occurred each year during 2010-14 worldwide, with global annual rate of abortion for all women of reproductive age (15–44) estimated to be 35 per 1,000 for married women and 26 per 1,000 for unmarried women. In developing countries, women have higher likelihood of abortion (36/1,000) than those in developed countries (27/1,000) (1). Public health and human rights efforts are directed towards ending this silent pandemic of unsafe abortion in developing countries. Hemorrhage, infection and substance-induced poisoning are found to be the main causes of death associated with unsafe abortions (2). Estimates on hospital admissions due to unsafe abortion from 13 developing countries showed annual rate ranging from 3/1000 women in Bangladesh to15/1000 in Egypt and Uganda while Pakistan, Nigeria, and the Philippines at 4–7 per 1000. An estimated five million women every year are hospitalized due to complications associated with induced abortions in the developing regions (3). A systematic review published in 2018, on 70 studies (1988 and 2014) from 28 countries, estimated near-miss event in 9% of abortion-related hospital admissions with approximately 1.5% that ends in a death with hemorrhage being the most common complication reported (4).
In Pakistan, evidence showed septicemia, uterine perforation (with or without bowel perforation) and hemorrhage being the most common complications of unsafe abortions attending hospitals (5). In communities of Pakistan, abortion seekers are predominantly uneducated women over 30 years age and with at least three children. Common reason for seeking abortion is found to be contraceptive failure. Complication rates with healthcare providers, perceived as ‘trained’ by women were also found to be associated with high complication rates in clinics (6, 7). In Pakistan, cost of abortion-associated complications are high, posing a burden on health system as well as poor families (8).
Abortion is associated with social stigma in both legally liberal and legally restrictive countries, but more in the later (9). Unsafe abortions in developing regions are among young women aged 15–24 years, 41% while 15% of those aged 15–19 years. Interventions are urgently needed to educate them about contraceptive information and services as they have a high unmet need for contraception. These interventions could be tailored by age group and other contextual factors (10).
Multiple factors influence the reproductive behavior of females mainly, socioeconomics and male involvement in reproductive decisions (11, 12). Knowledge about reproductive issues and care seeking play vital role in improving reproductive health behaviors (13). Behavior Change Communication (BCC) strategies/ interventions are effective in removing and reducing negative perceptions associated with abortions by improving community knowledge and local availability of services for safe abortion (14). BCC interventions are used in mobile health (mHealth) technologies and telecommunications and more strong evidence is being generated for establishing its effectiveness (15). Social and behavior change communication can be effective using infotainment at community level (16). Recent literature focuses on the access to safe abortion services, abortion implications and effect of behavior change communication (BCC) interventions on women’s behaviors associated with safe and unsafe abortions. Implementation of such interventions is very challenging when it comes to low literacy, resource-poor settings. Interpersonal approaches are found to be effective in engaging community leaders, key persons and influencers who can effectively counteract negative social norms and stigma associated with abortion. In stigmatized public health issues, multiple approaches are found to be effective in improving knowledge and perceptions of target population (14, 17). Relative effectiveness of high-intensity and low-intensity behavior change communication intervention models for care-seeking in abortion is assessed in Bihar and Jharkhand, India. Study showed that higher level of exposure to messages related to abortion resulted in more accurate knowledge (18). Multi-pronged intervention through BCC in India was found to improve access to safe abortion care and this can be replicated in similar settings (19).
BCC is based on behavioral model of health services (20). BCC interventions can build enabling resources including human resource and accessible facilities, adequate knowledge of where and how to avail these services, financial resources, and social support for seeking abortion care. BCC interventions for safe abortion services can be implemented using enabling resources, by raising the level of knowledge and developing enabling environment for women to develop positive reproductive health behavior. BCC interventions can bridge the gap in service availability and effective utilization (18, 21).
It is direly needed to change reproductive behaviors of Pakistani women through educating them on their reproductive rights and empowering them to change. Based on ongoing research on BCC interventions in developing countries, it is important to deliver such interventions in our context and show the extent and level of change through BCC. Developing and delivering context-specific tailored messages, considering religious, cultural, socio-economic and decision-making factors, is a difficult task but can bring fruitful results if combined with acceptable and feasible modes of communication for a specific/ targeted community. Present study was conducted to change perceptions about abortion and associated female rights through behavior change communication strategies using religion-based elements in female attendees of Basic Health Units of District Lahore, Pakistan.