Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare providers in Kenya have cautiously welcomed the removal of the Global Gag rule, an American policy that prohibits foreign non-governmental organisations (NGOs), who receive US global health assistance from facilitating or promoting abortion.
Also known as the Mexican City policy and first adopted by the then President Ronald Reagan’s administration in 1984, it has been repealed by every Democratic administration and reinstated by every Republican one since then.
Health rights activists are now demanding that it is permanently repealed to stem maternal deaths in developing countries.
Reproductive Health Network Kenya through its clinics the network helps women and girls in low income areas in the country, access Sexual and Reproductive Health services including abortion and post abortion care.
The last four years, the organisation’s Executive Director, Nelly Munyasia says have seen her and her funders American health charity Planned Parenthood Global, take tough decisions to continue offering services.
This, after then US President Donald Trump reinstated the Global Gag Rul and Munyasia watched as funding dwindled to near zero.
“We had to lay off staff, at that time we laid off eight staff, and in terms of our project implementation we had to stop outreaches usually we take the outreached to the communities.”
In 2017, the Trump administration expanded the global gag rule, dealing a devastating blow to organisation’s like Munyasia’s.
It was not just abortion or reproductive health services that were affected, in most cases these same clinics offer other health care services those too were affected.
Africa Regional Director at PPGlobal, Achieng Akumu says, “Trump expanded this policy to all Global Health Programmes, and that included be it HIV/Aids, the PEPFAR programmes, wash, malaria, child maternity care programmes, including other infectious disease programs, the further gag came that contractors would not discuss anything abortion related so that even simple referrals, simple counselling were prohibited.”
Munyasia adds that, “HIV patients suffered in return, women and girls that just needed contraceptive suffered, cancer screenings stopped, as a result we have seen an increase in the number of teenage pregnancies, girls committing suicide in the process of trying to seek unsafe abortion services from quacks and we also saw the rise in quacks because if healthcare providers are not empowered then quacks thrive.”
In the last four years, Munyasia says the number of unintended pregnancies has risen, especially among teenage girls. There were also higher rates of maternal mortality as well as unsafe abortions.
Natural Biden swear
While the Biden administration’s decision to rescind the Global Gag rule, offering a ray of hope for Munyasia and millions of women and girls in the developing world who depend on their services, Munyasia and her peers believe the reversal will, however, take time to undo the losses suffered under Trump.
They are also concerned that there is a possibility for the reversal of the rule should another Republican government take over.
Akumu says, “That will take some time, the funding is not going to flow immediately it’s a process and it is going to take some time to unpack and in order for it to be permanently repealed, in regards to its rescindment, the work now begins, this is an executive order, in order for it to be permanently, it will take an act of congress, it needs to go through the legislative process and that will take some time.”
Developing countries are urged to develop their own funding capacities, enough to cushion the nations’ services from foreign policies like the Global Gag Rule.