By Phyllis Mbanje
Maternal conditions and cervical cancer are among the top causes of death in Zimbabwe with more than 1 400 women dying annually from cancer-related illnesses.
Although the maternal mortality rate has gone down from 960 to 614 per 100 000 live births, the figure is still too high and stakeholders are making frantic efforts to strengthen health facilities to be able to deal with these challenges.
Health ministry acting permanent secretary Owen Mugurungi said women were dying from cancer mainly “due to lack of information and access to screening and treatment services”.
“Despite the maternal mortality rate (MMR) declining over the last five years from a peak of 960 per 100 000 live births to 614, according to the Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS) it is still high,” he said.
Speaking at the signing ceremony for additional funding of $2 million from the Swedish government for the Integrated Support Programme (ISP) for sexual and reproductive health and prevention of HIV and Gender-based violence (GBV), Mugurungi said integrating programmes ensured that women got maximum benefit from the health system.
He said the services had a significant impact on all efforts to ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health and rights.
“For instance, gender-based violence can make a woman vulnerable to HIV infection or an HIV-positive woman can die prematurely from cervical cancer, so there is need to integrate services,” Mugurungi said.
Sweden’s Ambassador to Zimbabwe Lars Ronnas reiterated the importance of ISP in mitigating high maternal mortality rate, cancer and HIV and Aids.
“The ISP is an important programme because at its core stands human rights, equal opportunities for all and gender equality,” he said.
United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) country representative Cheikh Tidiane Cisse said the additional funding would further strengthen the interventions under ISP.
“It will improve access to and utilisation of quality and integrated sexual and reproductive health, HIV and GBV services, by young people and women,” said Tidiane.
ISP supports the Health and Women Affairs ministries to provide integrated services in sexual and reproductive health, HIV and gender-based violence prevention.
The four-year programme was initiated in 2012 and its funding partners — Britain, Ireland and Sweden — have availed approximately $95 million for the programmes areas.