Strengthening Abortion Research Capacity in Sub-Saharan Africa (STARS)

Project Duration

2019 - 2022

Project Funder


Project Countries


Project issues/theme

Abortion, Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights

ICRW Project Director

Heather Marlow


Despite legal restrictions permitting abortion in Mali only to safeguard the life of the pregnant woman or when a pregnancy results from rape or incest, abortion is common throughout the country—and most of it is unsafe. It is also the fifth-leading cause of maternal death, and responsible for 9% of the direct complications of pregnancy in the country.

The Government of Mali has signposted its appetite for more evidence-based interventions related to abortion care through the launch of a national Standards and Protocols for Abortion Care. Currently however, the country lacks strong local capacity to generate nationally relevant evidence to guide more informed abortion policymaking. Thus, the purpose of this research is to understand how equipped public health facilities are to deliver comprehensive abortion care (CAC) in Mali and to learn about the barriers and challenges to the provision of quality comprehensive abortion care.

What Did We Set Out to do?

Building on our longstanding global experience and expertise in abortion and SRHR research, and in implementing sustainable research capacity strengthening activities, ICRW seeks to address the limitations of existing abortion research strengthening initiatives in Africa. As part of this vision, ICRW proposes to develop and pilot an innovative abortion research capacity strengthening program in Mali, West Africa, where the program’s objectives are strongly aligned with current national priorities. The lessons learned in Mali can be applied to other contexts in West Africa.

More specifically, the Strengthening Abortion Research Capacity in Sub-Saharan Africa (STARS) Program aims to:

  • Establish and strengthen multidisciplinary teams of researchers in academic and research institutions in Mali by providing them with transferable skills to identify and investigate urgent abortion-related research questions in their country;
  • Strengthen the skills of researchers in Mali in abortion research methodologies, data visualization, story-telling, scientific and academic writing, project and budget management and policy-maker engagement;
  • Offer opportunities for researchers in Mali to design, implement and disseminate high-quality rigorous research on abortion in their own country;
  • Institutionalize abortion research in promising research and academic institutions and support the emergence of abortion research leaders to accelerate the production and dissemination of high-quality abortion research evidence in Mali; and
  • Secure and foster the career paths of promising abortion researchers and their institutions in Mali through joint research grant applications, linkage to networks of abortion researchers and relevant advocacy groups in their contexts, manuscript and proposal development workshops, mentorship and rigorous training in evidence dissemination.

The rapid spread of COVID-19, which has overwhelmed health systems around the world, has shaped the trajectory of this project. The pandemic presents a unique opportunity to understand how health systems meet routine health needs of patients during a crisis. We will use the findings obtained to recommend ways to strengthen sexual and reproductive health service provision, as we will learn where such service provision is especially vulnerable under stress.

What Methods Did We Use?

As part of the STARS project, ICRW is conducting the following analyses:

  1. A research assessment to understand how equipped public health facilities are to deliver comprehensive abortion care (CAC) in Mali and to learn about the barriers and challenges to the provision of quality comprehensive abortion care.
  2. A qualitative research assessment to understand the impact of Covid-19 on Mali’s Sexual and Reproductive Health (SRH) services so that a) disruption to the services can be minimized through early coordinated response and b) processes can be put in place to deal with any future crises that threaten the SRH services.

Conclusions and Key Publications

Coming soon.