Reproductive health critical in eradicating poverty

RAPID urbanisation in Zimbabwe has shifted the impacts of malnutrition from rural to urban areas. According to the Global Land Report (2017), one in three stunted children under the age of five years, out of the 155 million across the world, now live in cities and towns.

BY MICHELLE CHIFAMBA

The alarming trend has created an influx of low income communities such as Hopley, Hatcliffe Extension and Epworth, which are characterised by informal settlements with semi-detached houses. The houses are made of cheap materials such as plastics and cardboard boxes, without proper roofing materials and the inhabitants use shallow wells as water sources.

With very little hope for the future, 32-year-old Lindiwe Sithole, a widowed mother of six — with two other children now deceased — stared vacantly at the horizon as she narrated the heart-rending tale of her life.

At the tender age of 14, Sithole got married to her boyfriend as a means of escaping poverty at home, and her first child died from birth complications.

“They said the baby was too big for a normal delivery. As a result, they suggested I deliver the baby through an operation. Unfortunately the baby could not make it. He was 3,7kgs,” she said.

Five years later Sithole divorced her first husband after having two children — one of whom died shortly after birth.

“When I was still nursing my second child, at eight months, I discovered that I was pregnant with my third. The baby also died from birth complications,” she said.

In her quest to provide for her children from her former marriage, Sithole got involved with three other men, two of whom gave her a child apiece.

“I later remarried and had two children again then my husband died. After his death his brother in-law became my husband and I have a one-year-old daughter with him,” she said.

Sithole admitted that she simply ignored all forms of contraceptives to prevent her from getting pregnant.

“I believe that if I am able to conceive I have to. Many want them (children), but they are not able,” she reasoned.

In her rural settlement in Chiweshe in Mashonaland Central Province, Sithole owns a small piece of land and makes a living out of selling peanut butter, chickens and vegetables.

“I cannot afford it (the fees) from the meagre earnings that I make on this small land. My brother-in-law has his wife and children and cannot afford to take care of my family,” she said.

Sithole said of late her health had been deteriorating and halfway into the year, she spent two weeks in hospital, while suffering from excessive abdominal pains.

“The doctors said that I have problems with my ovaries and I should have my womb removed,” she said.

“It pains me that my children are too young to take care of themselves and now I have been too weak to provide for them.”

As a result of the grinding poverty in most developing countries like Zimbabwe, women have been left vulnerable.

In Hopley farm, a single room made of cheap quality building material comprising of bricks moulded without cement and a small metal door as well as roofing metal asbestos reinforced with wire and bricks, is home to 34-year-old Nomatter Chirundu.

None of her children are in school. The oldest, at 14, was supposed to be in Form 2 and the other girls would have been in Grade 7 and Grade 5, while the youngest is a two-year-old boy.

The family survives on moulding bricks and working in the nearby fields.

“After moulding a thousand bricks, they give my husband $15 and if he works in the fields, completing 10 rows, he gets $5,” she said.

The International Day on the Eradication of poverty was commemorated on October 16 and the United Nations notes that there is need to invest more resources to tackle inequalities that prevent the poorest women and girls from accessing sexual reproductive health and rights in order for countries to attain the development goals.

According to the United Nations Population Fund’s State of World Population Report, 2017 —there is need for modern contraceptives to prevent population bulge that would undermine efforts to tackle global poverty. Giving access to family planning is crucial to the fulfilment of all human rights.

“There is need for greater investment to provide reproductive health services, including family planning to the poorest women to ensure women and girls contribute to the economic development of their countries,” United Nations Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA) executive director, Natalia Kanem, said.

“Inequality in countries today is not only about the have and have nots. Inequality is increasingly about the can and cannot.

Poor women who lack the means to make their decisions about family size or who are in poor health because of inadequate reproductive health care dominate the ranks of the cannot,” she said.

Family planning is central to gender equality and women’s empowerment and it is a key factor in reducing poverty.

The UNFPA is supporting the government of Zimbabwe to ensure access to family planning for women by ensuring a steady and reliable supply of quality contraceptives.

Family planning commodities worth over $10 million in the past four years have been provided by UNFPA.

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