Comment: A call for safe motherhood

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Zimbabwe celebrates World Health Day today amid a public health delivery system that is crying out for help from all corners.

This is despite that the country’s public health delivery system was once upon a time a marvel on the African continent.

Access to health facilities is a basic human right that is enshrined in the United Nations Human Rights Charter. However, the real situation on the ground is such that health is now a service for the rich or those on medical insurance.

Of great concern, however, is the right to access health facilities by nursing mothers and children who under normal circumstances should have free access to medical institutions so that they deliver their babies safely.

Deputy Prime Minister Thokozani Khupe is on record as having said child-bearing is a national duty for it is a fact that today’s infants are tomorrow’s leaders.

Every day, according to Safe Motherhood and Newborn Health, 1 500 women and adolescent girls die from problems related to pregnancy and childbirth globally.

Every year, some 10 million women and adolescent girls experience complications during pregnancy, many of which leave them and/or their children with infections and severe disabilities.

Although local statistics are not available, each year, about 3 million babies are stillborn, and 3, 7 million babies die soon after birth or within the first month.

The poor health of the mother, including diseases that were not adequately treated before or during pregnancy, is often a factor contributing to newborn deaths or to babies born prematurely and/or with low birth weight, which can cause future complications.

Some women living with HIV/Aids, a condition that is now relatively easy to monitor and regulate, have not been able to access nevirapine, a drug that prevents babies from contracting HIV during birth.

Maternity fees are so prohibitive that women decide to go to clinic when labour has started, making it impossible for health personnel to deal with all these complications within that short period.

The risks of child-bearing for the mother and her baby can be greatly reduced if a woman is healthy and well nourished before becoming pregnant and if she has regular maternity care from a trained health worker.

The risks can also be reduced if the birth is assisted by a skilled birth attendant, such as a doctor, nurse or midwife.

The government has the obligation to ensure that every woman has access to quality maternity care, including pre- and post-natal services; a skilled birth attendant to assist at birth and special care and referral services in the event serious problems arise.

Zimbabwe ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and international agreements on maternity protection.

Zimbabwe has also enacted legislation on maternity protection.

As Zimbabwe celebrates World Health Day, it is also a reminder that these international agreements in defence of women’s rights include a legally binding commitment to provide pregnant women and mothers with health services and protection.