COVID-19: A Double Blow For Expecting Mothers

Poor access to health facilities in Matabeleland North is a perennial problem, the advent of COVID-19 has significantly reduced the number of pregnant women who go to hospital, a major concern for a country with a high child mortality rate.

Some pregnant women and their unborn children are in danger across rural Matabeleland North Province as they cannot access public transport to reach health centres due to COVID-19 and poor road network. 

Expecting teenage mother Analia Muleya (16) from Binga, under chief Sinakoma says she has not managed to go for her checkups since falling pregnant in May, and fears are she may be forced to deliver her first child at home without any qualified midwife to aid her. 

“The roads were destroyed by the rains early this year in February when the floods occurred, and they have not been fixed,” says Muleya. 

“Access to Binga hospital has been difficult because of road network issues in addition to fears of catching coronavirus,” Muleya adds. 

“I have not been attended to and I also don’t even know whether my child is growing well or not,” says Analia Muleya, 16-year-old expecting mother.

“Those are things that worry me a lot but I have no choice but to wait for delivery,” she adds.

Muleya says her mother has already started the process of negotiating with untrained community health workers to assist her to deliver in January. 

Another teenager Nomagugu Tshuma (18) from Nkayi in Somthanyelo village says getting transport to visit health care institutions has been difficult as buses are often shunning the Nkayi route due to poor road network. 

Like Muleya, she says the situation has cut them from the rest of the world. 

She is in her second trimester and has no idea when she will visit the hospital for a check-up.

“The Zupco bus does not reach our areas and we are required to walk about eleven kilometers to reach the bus stop,” she says.

“Being pregnant hinders me from walking a long distance, and even if l am to try, those buses will be full after picking passengers as far as Gokwe and other areas so l think l will have to start looking for any village worker who can assist me to give birth. It is very stressful and scary and l also fear contracting COVID19 in the bus.”

The two teenagers’ story would resonate with many other pregnant women in Matabeleland North province, which has a poor road network and health centres are far spaced.

According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs’ situation report for Zimbabwe for September, outpatient consultation declined by 39 percent between April and July 2020 compared to the same period in 2019.

Maternal health services declined by 45 percent in April to July 2020 compared to the same period in 2019.

Health expert Itai Rusike from Community Health Group says the outbreak of COVID-19 has worsened the situation as travel restrictions and the public health emergency are restricting access to health institutions. 

“Every expecting woman should have access to health facilities and the priority should be given to them and their unborn children,” Rusike cautions. 

“The pandemic, and collapsing health systems have worsened the situation of this group and we would like to see a situation where they are given special aid in order to save lives because infant mortality is currently at a high level.” Itai Rusike, health expert from Community Health Group

Zimbabwe is among countries that have a high maternal mortality ratio with 458 deaths per 100 000 live deaths as of 2017. The country had, however, gradually reduced the maternal mortality from 530 deaths per 1000 000 live births recorded in 1998. A nurse at Tsholotsho District Hospital in Matabeleland North province says more women in the area are now being forced to deliver in unsafe environments, where they are prone to infections and have limited options if complications arise. She adds that expectant mothers that make it to the hospitals are still exposed to the coronavirus as health workers lack access to personal protective equipment (PPE).

“We wouldn’t want such interruptions, but unfortunately this is what we have been witnessing,” the nurse says. 

Padingani, provincial medical director in the Health and Child Care ministry, admits that expectant mothers could fail to access health care centres during the lockdown, but urges them to report for delivery at week 36. 

“When you are close to week 36, one should find a way to come close to the hospital,” he says. 

“We have homes for them there because they can deliver anytime and for the vaccination of children, we are doing our district area visits where our health care workers are vaccinating children.”

Source: The Citizen Bulletin

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