Therese Mujawayezu is a 4th year medical student pursuing General Medicine at the University of Rwanda (UR).
Since childhood, she has been hearing elders describe abortion as a crime, a taboo – to be precise. As a medical student nearing completion and join the job market, Mujawayezu has been shying away whenever a subject on abortion comes up among her peers.
She doesn’t own this alone. “Most of my fellow female students abstain from that subject,” she told KT Press.
Like Mujawayezu, some people in the Rwandan society still treat victims of abortion with a monstrous perception.
Even at hospitals, some healthcare providers own the same perception towards victims. As a result, young women end up living in constant stigma, once they experience unwanted pregnancy.
As a result of such experiences, in 2012, a group of medical students at the University of Rwanda formed the ‘Medical Students For Choice’ (MSFC) Rwanda chapter – to help provide a good opportunity for the promotion of reproductive health topics, including abortion care.
Medical Students for Choice is an internationally recognized non-profit organization with a network of over 10,000 medical students and residents around the world.
In Rwanda, the network trains and equips medical students with skills and knowledge to become better healthcare providers once they join the job market.
Despite the legal restrictions around matters of abortion, MSFC is the only opportunity for Rwandan medical students to discuss abortion issues, and it is a good occasion for all members to realize the burden weighing on women’s health and reproductive rights in general, according to Dr. Jean Berchmans Uwimana, a programs facilitator at MSFC Rwanda.
“Stigma remains a serious issue among our society, and one of the priorities we put in place is to help medical students come out of it to be the best healthcare providers,” he told KT Press on Sunday, June 9, during workshop on abortion care given to medical students.
Through MSFC Rwanda, beneficiaries get the opportunity to identify advocacy strategy and means to reach the right targets.
“It is important to recognize the need of reproductive health rights and to advocate for them in the context of human rights,” said Dr. Uwimana.
Several Rwandans are yet to learn that, with some conditions, abortion is legally accepted in Rwanda.
In April this year, a ministerial order N°002/MoH/2019 detailed all necessary requirements to enable a physician to perform an abortion.
This ministerial order is pursuant to the constitutional provisions articles 120, 122 and 176. The new ministerial order is also in line with article nº 68/2018 gazetted on 30/08/2018.
In its clause 6, the ministerial order outlines what would be contained in a request on behalf of a patient seeking to carry out an abortion.
For instance, if the pregnant girl is a very young, the request is made by persons with parental authority or the persons legally representing her.
This clause also provides that in case of disagreements between persons legally representing the patient, the final decision will be that of the patient.
While few women understand this right to abortion under above conditions, MSFC officials say, a lot needs to be done to train healthcare providers to provide quality services to patients.
“It is the role of healthcare providers to render stigma free medical services. In this regard, MSFC aims at empowering future healthcare providers to create a safe and favoring environment for girls who got unintended pregnancies as a way of preventing unsafe abortion,” Jules Iradukunda, a trainer at MSFC.
In Rwanda, MSFC works closely with Health Development Initiative Rwanda (HDI) – a non-profit organization that improves both the quality and accessibility of healthcare for citizens through advocacy, education and training.
According to Dr. Athanase Rukundo, programs director at HDI, “As an organization that deals with sexual reproductive health, we believe that medical students are future healthcare providers,” he told KT Press.
Through Medical Students for Choice, its officials, students should have clinical exposure to abortion care.