HomeOpinion & AnalysisComment & AnalysisThe agony of maternal mortality

The agony of maternal mortality

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Runyararo is a semi-literate housewife in Highfield’s most under–developed section, referred to as Cherima (the dark place). There are no electricity connections in the area.
She is visibly in pain, although the physical agony is nothing compared to the sense of grief and loss that she feels.
Just last week, she had gone to hospital, where she delivered the dead baby in her womb. That would have been her first child. The experience had upset so many balances in her life.
“I still can’t believe it,” she says fighting back her tears. “Why did it have to happen to me? Am I cursed? This has never happened to anyone in my family.”
She says losing your child even before you have known them is unbearable.
“All the time I wonder what he would have been like – his smile, his voice. But I never got the chance to know him,” she says, gazing emptily into space.
Her dead child has just become another statistic of neonatal and infant mortality in Zimbabwe. According to the country’s National Maternal and Neonatal Health Road Map 2007–2015, the maternal mortality ratio has continued to increase over the years and “the under five mortality rate is currently 82 deaths per 1 000 live births…the neonatal mortality rate which was 19 deaths per 1 000 live births in 1988, increased to 29 in 1998, and a decreased to 24 in per 1 000 live births in 2005–6”.
But Runyararo has no grasp of these high brow statistics. What she needs are answers. Her situation reflects the terrible heartache that a lot of women have gone through after losing their unborn babies – or a few months after birth.
In another case, a Muzarabani woman, Tabitha, lost a child just a month after birth. She has no idea why the child died.
“She was a normal baby,” she says. “She looked healthy. There were no signs of sickness at all.”
Expectant mothers are advised to eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, calcium-rich foods and plenty of fluids. But for Tabitha, this is expecting a bit too much.
The hospital at which she delivered her baby, does not have a midwife.
According to Health and Child Welfare Minister Henry Madzorera the country has a meagre 30% of the required number of midwives.
The country has suffered brain drain as skilled personnel joined the great trek to the diaspora in search of greener pastures.
“Our human resource problem is due to poor financing. We need more midwives. We have 70% vacancy levels. We need to train primary care nurses to be midwives,” Madzorera said.
He admitted that Zimbabwe was lagging behind on Millennium Development Goal 5 which seeks to reduce maternal deaths by three quarters by 2015. The country has a maternal mortality rate of 725 per 100 000.
He hopes the incentive scheme they have put in place with funding from the Global Fund will be too hard to resist for Zimbabwean midwives in other countries.
But it remains to be seen whether highly skilled midwives who have carved careers in richer countries such as the UK, New Zealand and Australia would be lured by the incentive just yet.
In June this year, the Health ministry in collaboration with its development partners launched the Campaign on Accelerated Reduction of Maternal Mortality in Africa under the theme ‘Zimbabwe Cares: No Woman Should Die While Giving Life!’ at Chivi District Hospital in Masvingo.
The Zimbabwe Maternal and Perinatal mortality study of 2007 shows the maternal mortality ratio has reached unacceptably high levels at 725 deaths for 100 000 live births in Zimbabwe.
These very high rates are linked to the country’s high levels of HIV infection.
HIV is now the leading contributing factor and indirect cause of maternal deaths.
The main objective of the campaign is to trigger renewed national and stakeholder efforts to accelerate the availability, accessibility and utilisation of quality health services, including those related to sexual and reproductive health, which are critical for the reduction of maternal and neonatal mortality.
With a lot of people earning no more than $200 a month quality health services mainly found in private hospitals have become just a pipe dream for the poor who are in the majority.
In municipal polyclinics in high density suburbs which are relatively cheaper it costs about $50 to book in for prenatal care.

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