A long walk to a safe birth for Zim’s expectant mothers

Rural Shurugwi women walk 20 to 30 kilometres to deliver their babies. Picture: ANA

Rural Shurugwi women walk 20 to 30 kilometres to deliver their babies. Picture: ANA

Maureen Gasela walks for 20km from Hange village in Zimbabwe’s Midlands to a nearby “mothers’ waiting shelter” where she will give birth.

It’s not an easy walk for a heavily pregnant woman, but the future of a new life is at stake. Her story is typical of expectant mothers in rural Zimbabwe who face difficulties in ensuring safe delivery. Many in the remotest areas walk up to 30km to give birth in these basic community clinics in order to avoid the risks of a home delivery – devoid of clean water and aid — where babies and mothers routinely die.

The rising cost of maternity fees have become prohibitive for hospital deliveries and so, the women must choose between an unsafe home birth and a long walk to a safer shelter. Although, statistics show Zimbabwe has succeeded in reducing the infant mortality rate to 55 deaths per 1 000 live births between 2010 and 2014, deaths rose to 58 per 1 000 between 2000 and 2004, largely due to an increase in home births as economic decline prevented women from having hospital deliveries.

“Memories of my first pregnancy are so painful. I lost my baby during delivery in my village because my husband couldn’t raise the US$10 to hire a car to rush me to the hospital,” Gasela said. “I have travelled 25km on foot to this waiting shelter, two weeks before the baby is due because I do not want to lose my child again.”

But the long distance to the waiting shelters has resulted in more and more women delivering at home and more and more children dying at birth. Gladys Mudzengeri says she has lost faith in her village midwives because they are untrained in dealing with pregnancy complications. “Traditional midwives in our area do not have the knowledge and so this is why I have walked so far,” she says. “I am hoping to have a safe delivery because my friend died while giving birth at home.”

Community health worker Margaret Maunganidze says that for the past five years, she has worked to inform women about the dangers of home deliveries. “We always encourage pregnant mothers to desist from relying on traditional midwives. We now have a waiting shelter so all deliveries should be done there for the safety of new born babies.”

This particular “waiting shelter” is situated at Zvamavande hospital where expectant mothers will be housed three weeks before delivery to avoid complications and enjoy close monitoring from midwives.

Since January 2014, this shelter has admitted 182 mothers, recording 375 deliveries.

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