|Make free maternity health care a reality|
|Thursday, 05 July 2012 09:06|
A lot has been written about the causes of maternal deaths with the main cause attributed to the high costs of maternity fees. What is being overlooked are the reasons women want to get pregnant in the first place. Do they want to get pregnant out of choice or are they forced to get pregnant due to other pressing forces which are beyond their control?
In the discussions that I have had with women, the overriding factor is the desire to bear children when the woman is married. Then, it follows that this should be a planned pregnancy in which the man and the woman agree to mate and have offspring.
The husband, in many cases, does not take the responsibility to find money to make sure that his wife is well looked after.
The unmarried women then face a daunting task of fending for themselves to get money to register their pregnancies at clinics. Unless the single mother-to-be is employed or has her own financial means, she will not be able to access health care during her pregnancy.
These days, HIV and STI tests are mandatory. Furthermore, a medical examination is necessary and any history of ill health has to be communicated to the health centre. Once all these precautions are taken, the husband and wife can go ahead and start a family.
One can understand about the waiving of maternity fees for expectant mothers if the initial registration fee is done away with. Pregnant women must not be deterred from accessing a health facility due to poverty. But, the question still arises: Who is to meet the costs of allowing pregnant women to visit health centres for free?
The Ministry of Health is failing to recruit more health cadres due to budget constraints from the national fiscus. What could be the solution? The Government introduced the Aids levy as well as the national pension insurance (NSSA). What is puzzling is why the Government did not do the same by introducing a national health fund?
If maternity fees are abolished, then the Government should levy, maybe one US dollar for every purchase made, to start the health fund to support maternal health care. As for health care costs in the cities and towns, the local government authorities could levy two US dollars from every resident who pays water and rates.
But the major issue may not lie with just maternity fees to prevent or reduce maternal deaths. Poverty is so pervasive in Africa that free health care may not be the only answer to this major problem.
The policy of empowering women with education and resources such as land and pursuit of informal or formal business activities would go a long way in reducing maternal deaths even eliminating the scourge of poverty completely.
There should be a system where the health centres are paid from a fund to offer free service. Sometimes a means test could be applied where those that can afford can be charged for the service.
Those that cannot pay for the service due to poverty can carry welfare cards that will enable them to seek free health.