Sexual and reproductive health

Expanding health worker roles to help improve access to safe abortion and post-abortion care: WHO launches new guideline

Nurse talking to a woman
Photo: Ipas

29 July 2015: Around 22 million unsafe abortions are estimated to take place worldwide each year, almost all in low- and middle-income countries. Adolescent girls and those who are poor, unmarried, less educated, and who live in rural contexts are particularly at risk of unsafe abortion. WHO’s new guideline Health worker roles in providing safe abortion care and post-abortion contraception aims to help break down one critical barrier which limits access to safe abortion care – the lack of trained providers.

New approaches for preventing unsafe abortion

FEBRUARY 2015 - A HRP-led Supplement to the journal Reproductive Health Matters shares new approaches which can be implemented to help prevent unsafe abortion. An estimated 22 million unsafe abortions take place worldwide, which contribute to causing a significant global burden of mortality. The Supplement, which is entitled Expanding Access to Medical Abortion, shares information on how expanding access to medical abortion – the use of drugs such as mifepristone and misoprostol to terminate an established pregnancy – can help to prevent unnecessary mortality and complications caused by unsafe abortion and obsolete surgical procedures.

Understanding unsafe abortion

image of makeshift and unsanitary traditional doctor consulting space
Photo: R. Johnson, WHO
98% of unsafe abortions take place in developing countries

The World Health Organization defines unsafe abortion as a procedure for terminating a pregnancy performed by persons lacking the necessary skills or in an environment not in conformity with minimal medical standards, or both. Although widely used, this definition is inconsistently interpreted. In this new article published in WHO’s Bulletin we discuss its correct interpretation and operationalization.

Ensuring evidence-based safe abortion care

The Department of Reproductive Health and Research is pleased to announce online availability of the Clinical practice handbook for safe abortion care, a practical tool for health professionals. This handbook was developed as a companion to the 2nd edition of WHO’s Safe abortion: technical and policy guidance for health systems, published in 2012. Whereas the safe abortion guidance offers a comprehensive blueprint for eliminating unsafe abortion, the clinical practice handbook summarizes key clinical recommendations to enable evidence-based decision-making with respect to safe abortion care.


The UNDP/UNICEF/UNFPA/WHO/World Bank Special Programme of Research, Development and Research Training in Human Reproduction (HRP) conducts and supports research to map and generate policy relevant evidence, tests interventions and their impact, and improves technologies for safe abortion and post-abortion care.