There is need for government to prioritise health issues concerning safe motherhood if Zimbabwe is to realise the goal to reduce maternal and infant mortality.
Safe Motherhood Initiative, launched by the World Health Organisation and other international agencies in 1987, agreed that care during childbirth from an attendant with midwifery skills was the single most effective way to reduce maternal deaths.
The most common direct causes of such deaths were known to be: severe bleeding; infection leading to sepsis; effects of unsafe abortion; eclampsia and obstructed labour.
But safe motherhood in Zimbabwe has been comatose for over a decade, with expecting mothers dying during or after labour.
Safe motherhood stipulates free access to medical services to ensure safe arrival of a baby and post-natal health care for both mother and baby.
A story carried in yesterday’s edition of NewsDay titled “Furore over proposed free maternity service” rekindled our memories of the sad experiences expecting mothers undergo at various medical institutions.
Harare mayor Muchadeyi Masunda was quoted as saying that all politicians advocating for free maternity service should stop politicking and face reality.
Council clinics had for so many years provided a reliable primary and maternity service at a minimal fee, and although service still remains relatively cheaper than other government medical institutions, the fees are beyond the affordability of many people.
Giving birth, as Deputy Prime Minister Thokozani Khupe says, is a national duty that requires special attention and hence the free maternity fees advocacy which has been doing rounds for many years.
This has however fallen on deaf ears as more and more women continue to die leaving little babies in the care of elderly grandparents, creating yet another social problem.
There is need to challenge policy-makers to refocus programmes and to shift focus from development of new technologies towards development of viable organisational strategies that ensure a continuum of care and account for every birth and death.
Goal 4 under the Millennium Development Goals stipulates a reduction in child mortality and to reduce by two-thirds the morality rate among children under five.
Under Goal 5 of the MDGs, the aim is improving maternal health and reducing by three-quarters the maternal mortality ratio in all 189 United Nations members.
Research has shown that complications related to pregnancy are causing the deaths of about eight women a day in Zimbabwe.
The last Zimbabwe Maternal and Perinatal Mortality Survey found that between 1 300 and 2 800 women and girls die each year during pregnancy and childbirth.
Some 725 women die per 100 000 live births, the research found, putting Zimbabwe’s figure far above the Millennium Development Goals target of 75 deaths per 100 000 live births.
On top of that, complications during pregnancy and childbirth leave between 26 000 and 84 000 women and girls disabled each year.
The issue therefore requires tangible action on the part of all stakeholders. Local authorities can only provide a free service if someone is picking up the tab at the end of the day.
In the past, government used to give council health institutions grants which have since dried up.
While it is noble for council clinics to provide the free service, it must be noted that the service must still be of the highest quality to reduce deaths and complications during childbirth.