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Last Updated: Friday, 26 September, 2003, 01:01 GMT 02:01 UK
US abortion rule 'hits Africa women'
Nairobi Aids orphans
Six children per woman are born in east, central and west Africa

The lives of thousands of women and children in Africa are being put at risk as a result of a change in United States foreign aid policy, healthcare groups say.

The Global Gag Rule - introduced by the US two years ago - prohibits family planning assistance to any non-government group that performs or offers counselling on abortion.

This means the increase of the spread of HIV/Aids, unwanted pregnancies, suffering and unfortunately more deaths
Amy Coen

A new study published by reproductive health-care organisations - based on research in Ethiopia, Kenya, Zambia and Romania - says the rule has left some communities with no health care provision at all.

However USAID - the body which distributes United States funds - says the amount of funding for foreign family planning services remains the same and that the level of service provided has not changed at all.

'More deaths'

The closure of reproductive health clinics is jeopardizing the health of the needy in Africa, Amy Coen - head of Population Action International (PAI) - told the BBC's Focus on Africa programme.

"This means the increase of the spread of HIV/Aids, more women having pregnancies they cannot handle, more children born that cannot be cared for - it means suffering and unfortunately more deaths," said Ms Coen.

The study cites Kenya, where three clinics of the Family Planning Association of Kenya have been forced to close.

Risks to African women
4m unsafe abortions occur in Africa annually
40% of deaths due to unsafe abortion are in Africa
20-29 per 1,000 women of reproductive age have unsafe abortions
Africa has world's lowest contraceptive use
6 children born per woman in east, central and west Africa

The closure of the Mathare Valley a clinic, in a slum area of Nairobi has left 300,000 people with no healthcare services.

In Africa - where most countries have restrictive abortion laws - 4m unsafe abortions occur each year and more than 40% of the world's deaths due to unsafe abortions occur on the continent.

Health hazards

However, USAID says that money for HIV programmes has increased by $200m in the last year alone to almost $800m.

USAID also states that no country that receives their help is without family planning services, since the new rule was introduced.

But the PAI report says that the US rule denies African couples who want to control their own fertility, the opportunity to realise their desire.

Kenyan AIDS orphans
Thousands of children in Africa are born to women with HIV/Aids
The same scenario is mapped in Ethiopia and Zambia, where health services are cut off from supplies of USAID contraceptives, including condoms.

This is at a time when more than 500,000 women die worldwide from pregnancy-related causes each year and over a million women die from Aids.

The survey shows that Lesotho where 25% of women are infected with HIV/Aids, does not receive any more USAID contraceptives following the country's refusal to agree to the Gag Rule restrictions.

USAID donated about 426,000 condoms between 1998 and 2000 to Lesotho Planned Parenthood Association.

PAI expresses its concerns over an increase in unwanted pregnancies and unsafe abortion, which will in turn inevitably lead to more maternal deaths as a result of lack of contraception.

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