THE mantra “No woman should die during childbirth” is fast becoming a fallacy, with statistics from the Health ministry showing that 143 women have already died while giving birth since the beginning of the year.
The worrisome statistics, which coincide with the introduction of the new maternity fees at council clinics, are a cause for great concern. These clinics are largely patronised by women who are at the lower rungs of the social ladder, and one wonders how they are supposed to come up with $120 for the services plus other costs such as consultation and medical sundries.
There are reports that fewer women are registering to give birth at council clinics, simply because they cannot afford the prohibitive costs.
Safe motherhood is no longer guaranteed in Zimbabwe where the least of resources are channelled to maternal health and yet it is the doorway to giving life. For years, women have been dying before, during and after childbirth, when a few strategies can prevent this from happening.
Poor allocation of resources has largely resulted in fewer clinics, fewer mid-wives and high maternity fees, all of which contribute to maternal deaths. Many women are now opting to give birth at home, through the assistance of unqualified midwives. This poses a major risk, particularly to those who are HIV positive and require preventive measures to ensure the baby is not infected.
The majority of women die in remote and poor rural areas, where healthcare services are often inadequate or inaccessible, and where there is a severe shortage of trained medical staff. Women from such areas are more unlikely to give birth in the presence of skilled health worker.
New global goals commit countries to reduce maternal deaths to fewer than 70 for every 100 000 live births. That is a tall order for Zimbabwe, whose maternal mortality rate is a staggering 625 per every 100 000 live births.
The country has made concessions that it will ensure that every pregnant woman is accorded a fair chance, along with her baby by adequately resourcing health facilities and making them accessible to the marginalised communities.
However, this will remain a dream if the current setup prevails, where council clinics have been forced to hike fees because they are not getting any subsidies from government to back up their free maternity services.
The policy directing that services for these women are free, is not enough without the adequate financial muscle to implement it at the grassroots level where it matters most.
Zimbabwe’s health sector continues to be over-reliant on external sources of financing which have contributed an average 50% of total funding from 2014 to 2018.
Motherhood is under threat and yet it is supposed to be the most natural process, which should bring joy and not tears. It is time to draw lessons from other countries and copy how they are doing it.