Zim must not evade WHO guidelines

HARARE - Elsewhere in this edition, we report that Zimbabwe is pondering whether to increase hospital visits by expecting mothers to eight from the current four in line with World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines on antenatal care adopted in November last year that says pregnant women should have twice as many contacts with health providers.

More antenatal contacts help to reduce the chance of stillbirths, with eight fewer perinatal deaths per 1 000 births, the WHO said in a statement.

There is nothing for authorities to think about given the alarming rate at which women die during pregnancy or shortly after childbirth in Zimbabwe.

As maternal mortality remains the most lagging Sustainable Development Goal, Zimbabwe’s focus must undoubtedly stay fixed on decreasing maternal death rates.

Zimbabwe’s maternal mortality rate is still one of the highest in the world and is heavily dependent on international aid. It is reported to be 614 per 100 000 live births, nearly topping the list in Africa.

The main causes of death include postpartum hemorrhage, sepsis and malaria. Deaths were also attributed to delays in seeking health care, finding appropriate facilities and being treated at a clinic or hospital. Many women delivered their babies at home, and health care remained unaffordable for a large proportion of the population.

This kind of maternal mortality in Zimbabwe defies easy explanation. Such rates typically happen during war, natural disasters and severe economic distress.

It is sad that successive Finance ministers have sharply reduced spending on health care. The cuts certainly don’t aid maternal health.

WHO, which has pushed for these new guidelines, has done a lot for Zimbabwe, introducing lifesaving techniques, and moving to abolish “user fees” for pregnant women at maternity clinics.

Critical to these measures was the support of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) to Zimbabwe’s government to strengthen maternal death surveillance — registering and determining the causes of deaths — to prevent future ones.

So it is surprising that UNFPA assistant representative Abigail Msemburi is at the forefront of pussyfooting on the WHO recommendations. And by the way, WHO on Wednesday appointed President Robert Mugabe as a global health ambassador for Africa. And here we are, seeking to evade compliance with the UN agency’s orders.

We seek the president’s intervention. The country loses nothing by making sure that pregnant women visit hospitals eight times during the tenure of their pregnancy.

Expecting mothers need early detection and treatment for conditions that aggravate complications during pregnancy, like malaria and HIV. And here we are having second thoughts about complying with these noble measures!

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