BY Phyllis Mbanje
Maternal health issues remain a huge headache for Zimbabwe, with nine women dying every day while giving birth.
According to the 2016 Zimbabwe Demographic Health Survey Report, the country had 614 deaths per 100 000 live births in 2015, slightly down compared with 2009, which recorded 960 deaths per 100 000 live births.
“While progress has been made in certain areas, there remains many challenges in Zimbabwe in ensuring universal access to sexual reproductive health and rights (SRHR) that need to be addressed,” the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) said in a statement.
“This includes reducing maternal deaths, nine women dying a day is too high a number and reducing teenage fertility. Approximately one in 10 adolescent girls aged 15-19 give birth every year and many die or are injured in childbirth as they are bodies are not yet ready for child birth.”
With most public hospitals in a deplorable state, many women have resorted to giving births at home due to shortages of drugs and facilities in the public health institutions, exposing the mothers to greater risk.
Zimbabwe is among countries in Africa with high maternal mortality rates.
According to World Health Organisation, in developed countries, the rate is low, with only 12 deaths per 100 000 lives.
Sadly, most of the deaths can be avoided if proper structures are put in place and hospitals are resourced enough to cater for pregnant women.
According to the State of the World Population (SWOP) 2019 Report, many rural women still experience limited access to health facilities and for those who do, there might not be adequate services in terms of medicines, basic tools and even staff.
Most clinics are manned by a few nurses who can easily get overwhelmed.
The largest percentage of women who die during birth is a result of bleeding (29%) and this can be reduced with timely interventions like getting the woman to the hospital on time as well as availability of medicines and blood.
Of concern also is the lack of commitment in ensuring the dignity of women and girls in emergency situations, the report further observed.
Speaking during the launch of SWOP last week, UNFPA country representative Esther Muia said maternal mortality rate was still unacceptably high.
“Every humanitarian crisis causes systems to break down, increasing the vulnerability of women and girls as we have just seen in the recent Cyclone Idai in Manicaland province. We must also ensure pregnant women have access to essential maternity health care,” Muia said.
Another challenge that Zimbabwe is facing, according to the SWOP report, is the high fertility among adolescent girls.
“Approximately one in 10 adolescent girls aged 15-19 give birth every year and many die or are injured in childbirth as they are bodies are not yet ready for child birth,” Muia said.
She also bemoaned gender inequality which hampers progress in ensuring women and girls reach their full potential.
“This limits the ability of women to freely make fundamental decisions about when and with whom to have sex, about the use of contraception or health care and about whether and when to seek higher education or employment,” Muia said.
“Addressing gender inequalities will help Zimbabwe fight gender-based violence (GBV), which sadly is eroding gains made in development.”
GBV remains a challenge affecting one in three women and girls.
Meanwhile, the SWOP report observed that Zimbabwe has made notable strides in increasing access to contraceptives from 42% in 1994 to 67% in 2018.
“The pursuit of rights and choices for all is an ongoing one, with new challenges emerging all the time. Over the years, the nature and scope of these obstacles may have changed, but UNFPA’s commitment to overcoming them remains strong,” Muia said.
The launch coincided with UNFPAs commemorations of 50 years of addressing population and development concerns and more importantly 25 years of commitment to the International Conference on Population and Development Programme.