'Pregnancy-related issues claim 3 000 lives annually'

HARARE - A woman sweats as labour pains set in and is in tears while the husband struggles with cattle pulling the scotch cart to the local clinic… The baby screams, and the mother gives in…

With Zimbabwe’s neglected health care system, many expecting mothers’ high hopes for their unborn children start to dwindle as the delivery date nears. Fear and uncertainty over the fate of their children and themselves overwhelm them.

Mothers are dying at an alarming rate simply because they cannot afford the basic life-saving services they need, officials say.

According to Health and Child Welfare deputy minister, Douglas Mombeshora, at least 10 mothers die giving birth everyday, translating to close to 3 000 women dying every year due to pregnancy-related complications.

“Giving birth should not be a matter of life and death because today every minute, a woman dies in labour; this adds up to more than 10 million over a generation,” Mombeshora told Mhondoro residents at the launch and signing ceremony of the European Union-sponsored rehabilitation of maternity waiting homes.

Although waiting homes have been built, many of the expecting women lament that the facilities are not friendly with the condition they will be in.

“We have to collect firewood to cook for ourselves; the task on its own is very difficult as I am almost in labour. We get firewood from as far as 4km away,” said Sekai Chipunza, one of the women admitted at St Michael’s Hospital in Mhondoro.

Figures show that little progress has been made in improving maternal health in line with the UN’s Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

The Zimbabwe Demographic Health Survey (ZDHS) 2010-11 estimates the maternity mortality at 960 deaths per 100 000 live births which is an increase from 555 deaths per 100 000 live births (ZDHS 2005-6).

Considering there are only two years left to meet the 2015 MDGs deadline, it will be an uphill task for Zimbabwe to measure up to the United Nation’s expectations.

Millions across the world are, however, dying due to childbirth-related problems with less than five years to the MDGs target date and those who are luck yto survive suffer severe or long-lasting illnesses or disabilities.

Mombeshora summarised the importance of expectant mothers, saying they were performing a national service to the country.

“A healthy nation can only come from healthy women. The current state where more than 700 out of 100 000 deliveries die during pregnancy is cause for concern. No woman should die while giving life,” he said.

The leading causes of maternal deaths are haemorrhage, infections, unsafe abortions, high blood pressure leading to seizures, and obstructed labour. These complications are highly treatable if adequate care, supplies and medicines are available.

Blood transfusion during delivery, however, is now being provided to mothers free of charge at all hospitals and clinics in Zimbabwe.

The country’s health system was weakened by years of economic upheaval.  In the last decade, the country’s health care services declined dramatically.

While home deliveries can be dangerous, many pregnant women in Zimbabwe find it difficult to raise enough money needed for their pre-natal check-ups.

Most deaths are attributed to delays in making a decision to visit a health facility, delays in reaching the facility, and delays in getting assistance.

The number of trained medical personnel attending births of women in poor areas has also dropped by 30 percent, according to the ministry of Health and Child Welfare.

The Maternal and Neonatal Programme Effort Index, a UN indicator, shows that Zimbabwe is considered to have a strong policy on safe motherhood with women and babies having reasonable access to some services, including new born care, some family planning methods and 24-hour hospitalisation in case of emergency.

But many other aspects of maternal and neonatal care services require strengthening, particularly in rural areas where women and babies have limited access to services, maternal and neonatal health care services.

Hospital administrators say abolishing admission fees for expecting mothers as advocated for by some politicians and groups is unsustainable, an indication that maternity fees may not be scrapped.

This will force thousands of poor women to continue seeking help from untrained community mid-wives.

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