RUVIMBO Mazhindu went into labour one day in January last year to deliver her third child but experienced complications while at a clinic in Esigodini.
Mazhindu, who is disabled, was in labour for three days before being referred to Mpilo Central Hospital.
“I had no money, I was stressed and worried about how I was going to get transport to the hospital,” she told The Chronicle. “But all of a sudden I felt the baby coming, and by the grace of God, I delivered a bouncing baby girl.”
Mazhindu’s plight is common among Zimbabwean women, despite the advances made since independence in improving antenatal care. Women interviewed by the Chronicle said the government should allocate more resources to the health sector to improve maternity wards in hospitals and clinics.
“Sometimes pregnant women die, not because of negligence by doctors, but because of shortage of equipment needed by doctors when helping women to give birth,” Mazhindu said.
“For example, during labour, you can be told that there is something wrong and you need to go for surgical operation, and at the same time, you find out that there are inadequate resources for that operation.”
Government allocated $281 million to the health sector in the 2017 national budget. In 2016, $337 million was allocated, 70 percent of which was channelled towards paying salaries for health workers. Zimbabwe has been allocating less than 10 percent of its national budget to the health sector for the past few years, below the minimum 15 percent, which was agreed upon by Africa’s heads of state in Abuja in 2001.
According to recent media reports, public clinics and hospitals are facing severe shortages of drugs, equipment and even staff to help patients, including expecting mothers. According to the United Nations Children’s Fund, Zimbabwe’s maternal mortality rate remains the highest in southern Africa, with 614 deaths per every 100 000 live births. Maternal mortality is defined as the death of a woman while pregnant, or within 42 days of termination of pregnancy.
Zimbabwe Women Lawyers’ Association (ZWLA) regional coordinator Sethulo Ncube said poor maternity ward conditions were the major cause of death during delivery.
She said: “Last month, the Chronicle published a story that so far 217 women have died this year while giving birth. This is really sad! And as ordinary women, we want maternity wards, which have adequate equipment and enough doctors to assist pregnant women when giving birth. We really want to see maternity wards that are in order and that have enough theatre kits.”
Women’s Institute for Leadership Development Trust programmes officer Permanent Ngoma said she expected the 2018 budget to be more gender sensitive, and to address issues that affect women more than men.
Ngoma said the Government should set aside money to build more clinics and hospitals rather than having Mpilo Central Hospital and United Bulawayo Hospitals (UBH) as referral hospitals.
She pointed out that Lobengula suburb, for example, did not have clinics, which disadvantaged pregnant women who must visit clinics every week for medical check-ups.
Ngoma said a clinic located in Lobengula suburb was closed and later re-opened as a male circumcision centre. “The Government must focus on building more clinics and hospitals because right now we have only Mpilo Central and UBH as the referral hospitals,” she said.
“The budget should also be injected in the clinics that are already there so that all clinics can be able to give a full body service, just like Mpilo and UBH.”
Ngoma added: “It is difficult for all pregnant women to move from their local clinics because they have no money. If you are referred to Mpilo due to complications, you start thinking of money to pay for an ambulance, hospital bills and food to eat whilst you are admitted in the hospital.”
Bulawayo City Council gender focal person Audrey Manyemwe said the Government must employ more nurses, midwives and doctors.
According to the Zimbabwe Nurses’ Association, the country is facing a shortage of about 8 500 nurses. Currently 14 982 nurses are employed in the country, with 3 452 midwives and 273 theatre nurses.
Manyemwe said the maternity centres in hospitals faced shortages of resources and women wanted the Government to ensure their safety when giving birth. “I remember one day when I was at Mpilo hospital, there was a long queue for pregnant women who were waiting to see a doctor,” Manyemwe said.
“Sometimes you find out that in the whole ward there will be two doctors for maybe fifty women and that is the reason women end up dying while in labour.”
Cynthia Dube is a fourth year journalism student at the National University of Science and Technology