THE Covid-19 pandemic caught the world unaware, affecting all facets of human lives and motherhood is not spared. Fear, anxiety and uncertainty are disrupting this normally happy period for expectant mothers.
While expectant mothers struggle to get to health centres and maternity homes due to travel restrictions, there is little joy when they get to the public health centres, as nurses are nowhere to be seen, as they have been on strike since June.
The few that chose to stick to their Nightingale Oath are overwhelmed, there’s not enough of them to go round, and there is little hope for patients.
With Covid-19 already making life a little more difficult, the absence of health staff at public hospitals makes them cease to be a place of hope.
The combination of the Covid-19 pandemic, the industrial action by nurses and shortage of essential medical equipment is a recipe for a maternal health disaster.
There’s just no excuse for what happened at Harare Central Hospital on Monday.
It is reported that seven babies were stillborn at the hospital on Monday night after urgent treatment was delayed due to unavailability of health staff as nurses continue to be on strike. So, seven mothers went home to empty cradles. Nobody deserves such pain.
In Bulawayo, public hospital bosses have appealed to Government and the Health Service Board to reach an agreement with nurses so as to save lives.
However, the nurses and their employer remain on stalemate.
Globally, the Covid-19 pandemic is posing considerable challenges for countries to maintain the provision of high quality, essential maternal and newborn health services.
Countries grappling with the pandemic may need to divert significant resources, including midwives, from regular service delivery to response efforts. Pregnant women and mothers with newborns may experience difficulties accessing services due to transport disruptions and lockdown measures or be reluctant to come to health facilities due to fear of infection.
The safest place for a woman to deliver her baby is at a functional health facility with a skilled birth attendant. However, during this global crisis many women may end up delivering at home without appropriate support, or they may even deliver alone in a health facility with no one to attend to them, as the nurses’ strike continues in the country. Countries and their partners must work together to ensure antenatal; childbirth and postnatal care services are kept available 24 hours a day, seven days a week throughout every stage of the pandemic.
Given the vulnerability of newborns during the first days of life, postnatal care services for mothers and their babies must continue to be prioritised.
According to Unicef, the full extent of Covid-19’s impact on economies, societies and health is still unknown and unfolding every day. Yet, if life-saving interventions are disrupted, many more mothers and newborns could die from treatable and preventable conditions. Investments in health systems must be made to enable countries to both adequately respond to the pandemic and ensure the continuity of critical maternal and newborn health services and supplies.
What is also worrying is the bureaucracy when one tries to get answers on what is happening at Harare Hospital.
I tried to talk to the Acting Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health and Child Care, Dr Gibson Mhlanga, and he said he does not respond to the media through interviews. He only deals with written correspondence via the ministry’s public relations department and referred me to Mr Donald Mujiri, the public relations officer.
Mr Mujiri said the matter was sensitive and only Dr Mhlanga and the acting chief executive officer of Harare Hospital Dr Christopher Pasi could respond.
Dr Pasi said he was in a meeting and added that the matter was being handled by the permanent secretary. So, at the end of the day, none of the persons could give a tangible comment about the situation at the hospital.
Such responses to the media are a pointer to the service that people are getting at these public institutions. One will walk in circles all day just to get a simple service, and will most likely not get the service. How can babies then survive with such dilly-dallying?
Now people seem to be hiding behind the veil of Covid-19 for perennial failure.
This pandemic must not be used as a scapegoat for other existing problems. Truly, it has worsened situations, but it certainly did not cause the maternity department failure that may have led to seven stillbirths out of eight deliveries.
Women cannot continue to carry babies for nine months only to go home to face empty cradles, not because it happened naturally but because they failed to get help. It’s unacceptable. — @andile_tshuma