Introduction: Abortion is legal in India and medication abortion (MA) using a combined regimen of mifepristone and misoprostol is the preferred method. Users increasingly purchase MA kits directly from pharmacies, in some cases experiencing perceived complications and approaching a facility for care. We present findings of a qualitative research tracing the decision-making pathway(s) of MA users in Uttar Pradesh, India, to help understand knowledge and behaviour gaps, and recommend ways to improve the overall quality of care at these service delivery points.
Methods: Forty in-depth interviews were conducted with recent MA users (20 each of clinic and pharmacy clients) across three districts. Providers were purposively selected in collaboration with an international organization selling MA kits, using their list of pharmacies and clinics. MA users were identified from the clients of the selected providers, and additionally through the snow ball method. Interviews were conducted in Hindi with verbal informed consent in a private place convenient to the respondent. Transcripts were translated to English and analysed thematically.
Results: Users first sought MA kits at pharmacies out of convenience, low cost and customer anonymity. Men often purchased kits for their partners and trusted the chemist for guidance on dosage, progression and side effects. For side effects or other concerns after using an MA kit, users first visited their neighbourhood doctor or traditional practitioner. These providers either attempted to treat the issue and failed, or directly advised her to consult a gynaecologist. The final point of care was gynaecologists, preferably female private practitioners with their own clinics. They diagnosed most abortion-related cases as incomplete abortions, emptying the uterus using the dilation and curettage method. Comparatively low cost and convenience made users inclined towards repeat use of MA.
Conclusion: There are information gaps at various stages in the MA pathway that need to be addressed. Large scale public information programmes are required on safe abortion care- when is it legal, where to obtain MA, dosage, side effects and signs of possible complications. Pharmacists could be trained or incentivized to improve their quality of care to facilitate adequate exchange of information on MA. Since, for most couples, the male partner purchases MA, information approaches or tools are needed that pharmacists can give men to share directly with the MA user.