Let's respect women

HARARE - For every 100 000 live births, over 500 women die in Zimbabwe from causes related to pregnancy and childbirth, while dozens more suffer from post-partum injuries.

Whilst there has been a marginal fall from the over 900 maternal deaths recorded at the height of Zimbabwe’s economic meltdown in 2007, the cumulative lifetime risk of maternal death remains unacceptably high.

Maternal mortality is related to a variety of health, social and economic factors.

Maternal and neonatal deaths are clustered around the delivery and the post partum period, with mortality risks strongly associated with the “three delays” in receiving skilled care at the time of an obstetric emergency — that is delays in the decision to seek care, in reaching health facility, and receiving quality care on arrival.

At a recent  half-year budget performance review facilitated by the parliamentary portfolio committee on Heath in conjunction with the Zimbabwe Women Resource Centre Network (Zwrcn), it emerged that these delays are often attributed to financial barriers, transportation challenges and distance to appropriate facilities.

Ensuring that mothers have access to a skilled attendant during labour can dramatically reduce the risk of death for the mother and newborn child. In almost all countries where health professionals attend more than 80 percent of deliveries, maternal mortality ratios are below 200 per 100 000 deliveries.

In rural areas where doctors and nurses are scarce, women often give birth at home without the assistance of skilled health workers with the medical skills or equipment to provide life-saving interventions in case of emergencies.

And in such instances, the majority of such pregnancies result in complications and require emergency medical intervention, including Caesarean sections to relieve obstructed labour. Amid this crisis, it is disheartening to note that government is lackadaisically responding to this crisis.

Elsewhere in this edition, we report that reproductive health was allocated a paltry $200 000 in the 2013 budget. As at June 3, not a single cent had been disbursed. HIV/Aids and TB awareness, which was allocated $205 000 in the spending plan, is yet to receive the funds from the fiscus.

This failure to fund such a critical intervention is totally unacceptable. Soon after independence in 1980, there were noticeable increases in the use of antenatal care in Zimbabwe.

However, antenatal care use is dropping dramatically because of the funding shortfall. What happened to government promises to scrap maternity user fees?

What happened to pledges that women giving birth are performing a national duty? Is this the way to treat our women, our mothers and sisters, Comrades?

Improving the coverage, frequency and quality of antenatal care is an essential step to improving maternal and neonatal health indicators because many effective interventions can be provided during pregnancy. Is that too much to ask?

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