Maternal homes save teen mothers

HARARE - Talent Ndlovu, 16, is an orphaned Form Two drop-out and she is pregnant.

Tucked in rural Manana, an arid and marginalised region in Matabeleland Province, Talent lives with her 79-year-old grandmother, Regina Banda, and three other siblings. 

Her father was a mine worker and his measly income was barely enough to save beyond a day.

Now with both parents late, the family’s living conditions have plummeted and they literally live from hand to mouth.

The land, too barren to produce any meaningful harvest, is now of little value to this family which now seasonally relies on doing work on other people’s lands to make ends meet.

But for the past two months she has been living at Manana Mission Hospital waiting to give birth at one of the many maternal homes established to save women like her.

In Zimbabwe, maternal deaths statistics are worrisome and government along with helping partners have intervened to save lives.

CHEERS: Some of the mothers at St Lukes Maternal Home in Lupane district, Matabeleland North.

With the economy in  a  bad state, teenage pregnancies especially among the poor are now all too common and so are the risks of complications.

Waiting homes have been built in most of the country’s rural referral hospitals to bring mothers close to healthcare and help reduce maternal mortality which currently stands at 525 from 960 in 2010.

United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) statistics show that the fertility rate among teenage girls aged 15 to 19 stands at 115 per 1 000 girls; a significant increase from 99 per 1 000 girls in 2006.

Research has shown that this age group’s risk of maternal death is twice as high for girls aged 15 to 19 and even five times higher for girls aged 10 to 14 years compared with women in their 20s.

Experts say the risks can only be averted through quality institutionalised deliveries.

Now living at a maternal home waiting to deliver, Talent is hopeful that her child will survive.

“I thought if I got married I could help my family but when I became pregnant the guy ran away to South Africa,” she says.

Her case is prevalent among most girls of her age, while a small number is married to young husbands of little income.

Since the turn of the new-millennium, Zimbabwe witnessed an unparalleled deterioration of key maternal and new-born health indicators owing to a slump in economic performance.

Skilled birth attendance fell from 73 percent to 66 percent between 1999 and 2011.

Institutionalised deliveries declined to 65 percent from 72 percent triggering maternal mortality rates from 350 to 960 deaths per every 100 000 live births during the same period.

Sarudzai Makiwa, a mother of a three-year-old boy recalls with a shudder the hell she went through when she had her first child.

“Considering how getting money has been a problem to me, I was always going to try and come when labour pains start. Who knows what could have happened in-between had  I not been booked here knowing how bad our roads are?” queried the mother who has given birth to her three children by caesarean section.

She recalls the scramble for a few rooms that women crowded in when she had her first baby.

“You were lucky to be in. We are now also being given food, sleeping on beds not floor, have mosquito nets and using the flush system. Then we were paying maternal user fees but not anymore. Here I receive most of the care I need before I leave”.

The Zimbabwe Demographic Health Survey for 2010-2011 revealed that only 28 percent of women received a post-natal check-up within two days of delivery as recommended and 57 percent do not have a postnatal check-up at all.

Makiwa is among the close to 90 000 beneficiaries of European Union (EU) grant amounting to $12, 3 million received by United Nations Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA) in 2012 to support revitalisation on maternity waiting homes in Zimbabwe until 2015.

The majority of the women booked at Manama hospital need at least between $6 and $10 for a one way fare to the nearest referral centre. According to experts, a pregnant mother go for check ups twice a month on average.

Manama district nursing officer Filter Sibanda said most of the cases accommodated in the waiting homes are critical in bringing down the high maternal mortality rates.

“Most of our mothers here are the young beginners and orphans. Orphans sometimes they have no parental guidance and protection. They go around looking for food or anything until they fall pregnant”.

Health officials from both Matabeleland South and North concurred that there is normally a surge in pregnancies between September and December when men working in South Africa return home for Christmas.

The young girls are left to rue men who would have impregnated them when they flee to the neighbouring countries.

The shelters also accommodate mothers who have had caesarean babies, previously experienced postpartum bleeding and those who are carrying their fifth or sixth child.

Sibanda added, “Looking at all the scenarios I mentioned, you can tell things would be really bad without these shelters. These are poor families living in a dry land and can barely afford to seek healthcare”.

The concept of such shelters was introduced in the early 1980s but had been severed by resource constraints which affected other sectors since the fall of the new millennium.

Through the fund, UNFPA has refurbished or extended and furnished at least 74 of the targeted 103 district, mission and rural hospitals’ shelters including those at St Luke’s hospital and Manama Mission Hospital in Matabeleland North and South respectively.

At least 63 ambulances have been procured and distributed.

Over 1 000 healthcare professionals have received specialised training and mothers are receiving nutritional support such as kapenta, beans and maize.

The mothers also receive education on how to nurse their expected babies and prevent infections in sexual unions.

Rudo Chikodzore, Matabeleland South maternal and child health officer in the Health ministry, said accommodating caregivers of the expecting mothers is vital in making the idea of shelters comprehensive.

“Matabeleland has the highest HIV prevalence in the country and these young ones tend to be highly affected. What we have here at Manama where members of the family are allowed to stay close to the pregnant mothers is such an important positive because it gives mothers the social-psycho support they need,” she said

Lupane district medical officer Nkazimulo Tshuma said teen pregnancies have become a major force in fuelling the cycle of poverty and morbidity nationally.

“With teenage pregnancies you end maybe having more complications. At least services and safe instituionalised deliveries have increased because of the shelter. Again those children will end up not finishing school and takes away their chance to break the cycle of poverty,” said Tshuma.

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