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Objective  To validate anecdotal reports that abortion-related complications decreased in the Dominican Republic after the introduction of misoprostol into the country.

Design  Retrospective records reviews and cross-sectional surveys, interviews and focus groups.

Setting  Family planning clinics, pharmacies, door-to-door canvassing and a tertiary care maternity hospital in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.

Population  Women of reproductive age in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.

Methods  Qualitative and quantitative methods were used. Individual interviews and focus groups of reproductive health professionals, non-governmental organisation leaders and women's group leaders (n= 50) were conducted to discover the role of misoprostol in the Dominican Republic. Local women (n= 157) were surveyed to determine their knowledge of misoprostol as an abortifacient and mystery client visits were made to 80 pharmacies in order to purchase misoprostol without a prescription. Sales data were obtained that documented when misoprostol was introduced to the Dominican Republic pharmacies. Hospital admissions for abortions from the prior eight years were reviewed and hospital emergency room consultation ledgers of 31,190 visits for the period 1994–2001 were reviewed for abortion complications.

Main outcome measures  Frequencies of maternal morbidities and knowledge of misoprostol.

Results  Mystery clients purchased misoprostol without a prescription in nearly 64% of pharmacies; staff provided little additional information or counselling. Reliable sales data documented the introduction of misoprostol in 1986. Abortion complications decreased from 11.7% of abortions in 1986 to 1.7% in 2001. The majority of professionals interviewed felt that knowledge of these findings should be made public.

Conclusions  The data were of too poor quality to validate the verbal reports reliably, but misoprostol appears to have been widely used over a period when abortion-related morbidity fell. It remains plausible that the use of misoprostol contributed to the reduction.