‘Covid-19 worsens gender inequality’

Women in Zvishavane and Mberengwa have lamented the unavailability and high cost of COVID-19 PCR tests as well as inadequate testing labs, saying this is standing in the way of effectively containing the second wave of the coronavirus.

This comes at a time when the country is struggling to manage the second wave of the pandemic, which has seen the number of new infections and casualties soar in the past few weeks.

The increase in cases has also resulted in the country’s Vice President Constantino Chiwenga imposing a second strict lockdown which came into effect on the January 5 this year, in an effort to contain the spread of the virus.

Zvishavane currently has one approved lab where PCR tests are being done as revealed by the district’s Health and Environmental officer Mubatsiri Shoko.

Women who spoke to CITE highlighted that the COVID-19 pandemic has worsened gender inequality as they are struggling to access health facilities, citing unavailability of sexual reproductive health care, poor marternity services among others, as the major challenges they are currently facing.

Namatai Mpofu from Mapanzure in Zvishavane said as women in rural areas they are heavily burdened by the effects of the pandemic and lockdown.

“We do not have COVID-19 testing facilities and this is putting our health at risk. I don’t know what I will do if I develop symptoms because the clinics are overwhelmed and could end up being super spreaders of the virus,” said Mpofu.

She added that poor marternity health has resulted in high child mortality rate and death of mothers during the birth process.

“Pregnant women have opted for giving birth at home but this is not safe. We have had a number of women who lost their lives while giving birth at home. The new born children are also dying because some are born sick and in need of medical attention,” she said.

Last year, seven babies made headlines for being stillborn in one night at Harare Central Hospital due to delayed treatment and shortage of staff, as health workers are hesitant to attend to patients without adequate Personal Protective Equipment.

According to the UN World Population Prospects, in 2020 the country’s infant mortality rate was 36.882 deaths per 1000 live births, whilst in 2021 the recorded infant mortality rate so far in 35.954 deaths per 1000 live births.

Grace Matanga from Mberengwa challenged the authorities to take swift action towards provision of adequate health services to women.

“We are at the receiving end in all this. We need family planning, we need martenal care, we have children who are sick and need immediate assistance. We appeal to government to provide door to door mobile health care, this might save lives,” said Matanga.

Tatenda Hove from Mazvihwa echoed the same sentiments, as she said unwanted pregnancies are on the rise due to lack of family planning services.

“We have a lot of unwanted pregnancies which are worsening poverty as some families are already struggling to provide for the children they have. And we can’t go to the clinics or travel to hospitals to access family planning because we are scared of contacting the virus. We end up settling for birth control methods which are not conducive for us, and that has impact on our health,” she said.

The Constitution of Zimbabwe provides that every citizen and permanent resident has the right to access basic health care, which includes reproductive health services. The right to health is essential and health care must be accessible, available, acceptable and of good quality.

Zvishavane District Health and Environmental officer Dr Mubatsiri Shoko says the COVID-19 pandemic has compromised health care delivery and women as well as heath workers are the most affected.

“At Zvishavane District hospital and some hospitals in Mberengwa, people are tested for free but we have few PCR test kits on standby for use in case someone shows symptoms or during contact tracing. However, these are not enough, but for those with money, we have one approved lab at LordsLand private clinic where people can get tested,” said Dr Shoko, adding that the district only has one quarantine and isolation centre which is Dadaya.

Mberengwa District Medical Officer Dr Gabriel Ndagurwa also said they are facing the same challenges as there has been a disruption of services at major hospitals like Musume, which recently recorded two positive cases who are health workers.

“Two health workers tested positive and 30 contacts were discovered and are currently in quarantine. There’s also need to disinfect the hospital, but besides that we are offering marternity, casualties and other basic services,” he said.

Dr Ndagurwa added that in terms of COVID-19 testing, they collect samples and send them to a lab in Zvishavane, where they are examined.

Women are more vulnerable to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic as they are the primary caregivers and less resourceful that their male counterparts.

The current lockdown has also added to their responsibilities as they have to fulfill their gender roles, take care of their children, husbands and relatives, some of whom are COVID-19 patients.

Cases of Gender Based Violence have also acutely increased as most women are stuck with their abusers, with little help at their disposal. This goes to show how the COVID-19 pandemic is having a bearing on women rights.

In this regard, Civil Society Organizations have called on government to provide basic necessities to women so as to ease the burden on them.

Hands of Hope Trust programmes manager Acqueline Nyere said PCR testing is as good as not available especially to rural women interms of its cost.

“We talking about USD$50 where someone can hardly get a $1 as well as distance barriers. There are currently no mobile testing centers which all in all brings us to question the given statistics on a daily basis,” said Nyere.

“Dadaya was the once spoken of Quarantine centre around Zvishavane and Mberengwa but has no proper utilities to combat the spread of Covid-19 henceforth people would run away, rejoin families and public at large or even have the freedom to visit public places such as shops risking the lives of many,” she added.

Nyere also highlighted how the lockdown has worsened access to health care facilities saying products such as sanitary wear, family planning services and maternity have been compromised as women and girls can not afford private services that are offered at a higher fee.

“Many women are not able to work during lockdown or mantain their livelihoods therefore even the cost of sanitary wear becomes an issue. Clinics and local hospitals have no equipment and resources. Some women are discharged after giving birth without receiving proper maternal care. We see that Covid-19 has indeed stood in the way of access to healthcare services as women are no longer able to receive needed reproductive healthcare services as frontline workers (nurses/doctors) are no longer confident of assisting patients without proper testing equipment and protective clothes against Covid-19 making it very difficult for mainly pregnant women to access proper maternal care,” said Nyere, adding that the lockdown has also disabled most women in terms of business and income-generating projects making it difficult to afford basic needs.

Womandla Foundation co-founder Tracy Burukai said women have always been marginalized when it comes to access to proper adequate health care.

“We see that the Covid Era has exasperated the risks pertaining to women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights. For instance, the rise in infant and maternal mortality due to post maternity infection means we are losing lives. Our rural female populace sites the most common health effects being that their choice of contraceptive has been affected by the imposed movement restrictions which force them to use whatever method is available when they do manage to go to the nearest health facility regardless of some adverse health conditions arising,” she said.

“The lockdown and it’s restrictions have had adverse effects on SRHR as its most relevant law is restricted movement. This in essence means one is forced to disclose their health issues and status in order for them to be allowed to seek treatment and this infringes on one’s privacy rights,” added Burukai.

Burukai called for the improvements of health facilities that cater for COVID-19 patients.

“Our health facilities are not wholly prepared to handle the pandemic at a local level as we have only Zvishavane district hospital that caters to a large rural and urban population. Our quarantine centres need upgrading to cater for particular women related contingencies such as access to contraception, menstrual health care and infant related health care. Once we accept the fact that Covid isn’t going anywhere anytime soon we have to act likewise by upgrading our health care services with better sanitization, testing and quarantine facilities. As we begin the year we task the relevant duty bearers and service providers to rise up to improve our health care facilities so women related health care issues are not left unresolved,” she said.

Source: Centre for Innovation and Technology (CITE)

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