|Maternal mortality: rural women bear the most brunt|
|Saturday, 23 June 2012 20:48|
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THE birth of the beautiful baby girl was supposed to be the icing on the cake, the cherry on top of the glamorous and colourful wedding which became the talk of the town 12 months ago. But alas the welcoming of the offspring was not accompanied with the traditional congratulatory messages, for the child bearer — the mother of the infant lay dead on a hospital bed, leaving the pride of her motherhood motherless.
The beautiful bride and mother-to-be was now reduced to a mere regional statistic part of national statistics that confirm our worst fears: that indeed the maternal mortality ratio is high, and presents the biggest challenge and obstacle to the attainment of Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) on reducing delivery deaths to manageable levels.
This unfortunate woman is just part of the escalating figures in maternal mortality statistics, which is a grave reality that betrays the value placed by the society on the fairer part of nature — women in child-bearing. If those of us who had the privilege of mothers compare notes with those denied this awesome gift of Divine, we will take more concerted action to preserve the lives of our women at childbirth.
Where a mother does not have the opportunity to take care of her child because she passed on at childbirth, the reaction of society to the child is one of non-concern at best. We currently lack a proper structure to ensure the positive social integration of these children, but that is a topic for another day.
Back to the issue of maternal deaths, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFP) in partnership with the University of Zimbabwe and other UN agencies compiled a comprehensive report of deaths resulting from pregnancy or childbirth, which revealed that 725 Zimbabwean women out of every 100 000 who deliver, die due to complications.
Other researchers say between 1 300 and 2 800 women die each year due to pregnancy-related complications, and most of these maternal deaths are avoidable. Additionally, another 26 000 to 84 000 women and girls suffer from disabilities caused by complications during pregnancy and childbirth each year.
The number of deaths might seem small, but taking into consideration other issues that threaten the breath of the female folk such as domestic violence and cancer, none seems more life-threatening than maternal mortality, which makes other forms of female discrimination look like child's play.
The age-long causes of maternal mortality are haemorrhaging, infections, malaria, high blood pressure and unsafe abortion. But the UNFP report concludes that HIV and Aids are the cause of one in four maternal deaths in Zimbabwe.
According to Hilary Chiguvare from UNFP, the HIV/Aids exploitation in maternal health programmes appeared to be "very weak": of the 91 percent of pregnant women who visited antenatal clinics, only 4,7 percent knew their HIV status, and only 1,8 percent of HIV-positive pregnant women received antiretroviral (ARV) drugs to prevent mother-to-child transmission.
The second highest cause of death was postpartum haemorrhaging (excessive bleeding after delivery), followed by hypertension (high blood pressure) and sepsis (infection). Most maternal deaths occurred at home, where women did not have expert care when they experienced complications.
Many women could not afford transport to distant health facilities, but even those who could often failed to get drugs or assistance from skilled health professionals. The fees charged by health facilities were another barrier.
The report also revealed that 29 percent of pregnant women who belong to the Apostolic Faith Christian sect were at greater risk of maternal death due to their belief that health problems should be treated only through prayer.
Chiguvare said: “The major challenge will be to develop a sensitive approach to the sect, which respects their right to religious freedom but also asserts women’s rights to health.’’
The study concluded that nearly half the maternal deaths could be avoided by successful prevention and treatment of complications, and that none of the interventions are complex or beyond the capacity of a functional health system in Zimbabwe.
Indeed there is nothing complex in reinvigorating the spread of information on family planning; reducing early marriages (predominant in rural areas), doing away with the unaffordable cost of health care and improving hygiene and boosting the nutritional levels of would be mothers.
While other public health issues like tuberculosis, malaria and notably HIV/Aids receive significant attention, maternal mortality is hardly the subject of donor agencies and charities, they rather pour their money into the coffers of political parties and projects that have nothing to do with national development.
The media also has a role in highlighting some of the preventable causes of maternal mortality. Instead of reinforcing some of the discriminatory practices against women, it should challenge Zimbabweans to think and question existing convention on issues like early marriage and teenage sex.