By Masimba Biriwasha | Global Editor-At-Large | @ChiefKMasimba | 07 January 2013
A Zimbabwean woman, Tendai Chitsinde, 24, died recently while giving birth to her first child. According to news reports, hospital staff called off a Caesarian section operation which could have saved her and her baby’s life. Because she was a television presenter, her death made news headlines and an outpouring of grief.
But Chitsinde is only one of an estimated 3,000 women and girls who die each year in Zimbabwe due to pregnancy-related complications. That’s 8 women dying every day of the year.
Additionally, 26 000 to 84 000 women and girls suffer from disabilities caused by complications during pregnancy and childbirth each year.
Maternal and neo-natal health services in Zimbabwe face severe shortages which hampers the delivery of quality services. As a result, the maternal mortality rate alarmingly stands at 960 maternal deaths per 100 000 live births – three times higher than the global average and almost double that of the Sub Saharan averages.
Maternal mortality is defined as the death of a woman while pregnant or within 42 days of termination of pregnancy, regardless of the site or duration of pregnancy, from any cause related to or aggravated by the pregnancy or its management.
The consequences of maternal mortality are felt not only by women but also by their families and communities. Loss of women during their most productive years also means a loss of resources for the entire society. At least 1.23 per cent of GDP is lost annually due to maternal complications in the country, according to UN.
Most of what needs to be done is already known. However, Zimbabwe’s decade-long political, economic and social fallout has had a terrible impact on the public health delivery system, significantly reducing the quality of services provided to pregnant women.
Many women, particularly in rural areas cannot afford the transport costs required to make frequent travels to health centers during and after pregnancy. Rural women opt to deliver at home which significantly increases chances that they will die, especially when the delivery requires surgical intervention, or is carried out by non-skilled persons.
Shortages in personnel, equipment and supplies continue to plague Zimbabwe’s healthcare infrastructure, putting the lives of pregnant women at risk.
According to WHO, most maternal deaths are avoidable, as the health-care solutions to prevent or manage complications are well known.
It is particularly important for health care workers to be well trained so they can properly meet the medical requirements of pregnant women.
Unless significant action is taken to improve health services, pregnancy will continue to imperil the lives of Zimbabwean women.