As one of the countries with the highest maternal mortality rates in the world, at 846 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is aiming to reduce deaths due to preventable causes, such as unsafe abortion. The DRC is at a key turning point for expanding access to women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights. In March 2018, the Maputo Protocol was published in the country’s official journal, effectively legalizing access to safe abortion in the country. However, since that time, progress on implementation of the Maputo Protocol has taken time as guidelines for care are developed and rolled out across the country, a process which has been slowed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Meanwhile, COVID-19 has also increased the urgency for expanded access to care, as women are more vulnerable to violence or unwanted pregnancy. In eastern DRC in particular, where decades of conflict and humanitarian crises have contributed to high rates of sexual and gender-based violence, the health system is weak and women continue to seek unsafe abortion, placing their lives at risk.

In South Kivu, in eastern DRC, local actors are engaging in advocacy with the provincial government to respond to this urgent situation and capitalize on the progress that has been made towards expanding women’s rights to safe abortion in DRC. Through a provincial edict that would harmonize guidance around abortion care, allocation of resources to support medication abortion, and reinforcement of the weakened supply chain, South Kivu can respond to the urgent needs of women and girls and save lives.