Mutasa-Mariam Chiremba (27), an expecting mother of Chinzou Village under Chief Mutasa in Manicaland Province prepares her lunch in a well built kitchen at Sherukuru Clinic while other expecting mothers wait patiently for their turn in the shelter.
The waiting shelter, built by various stakeholders, caters for expectant mothers who stay far away from health facilities and those with high-risk pregnancies.
The waiting houses accommodate pregnant women from about 36 weeks.
The completion of the four-roomed structure late last year was met with joy by communities in Sherukuru and surrounding areas.
“We are very happy as expecting mothers, now we can travel short distances which is quite encouraging and safe for us. In the past we used to travel to hospitals such as Bonda, Mutare, Hauna, and Old Mutare for similar services,” Chiremba said.
“Now I don’t see any reason why someone should give birth at home, here everything is for free we thank the Government and its partners for what they are doing for this community, hope it will continue like this.”
Chiremba urged the relevant authorities to build an even bigger shelter to house for more expecting mothers.
Officially opened by the then Minister of Health and Child Welfare, Dr Sydney Sekeramayi in 1987, Sherukuru Clinic services over 25 villages which include Kuuyangepi, Kagweda, Majakata, Mudzindiko, Dudzayi,Nenjerama, Mufandaedza and Hakuziwi.
The clinic attends to between 45 and 40 patients daily.
Several measures have been initiated by Government and other partners to improve maternal and prenatal care.
One such measure is the establishment of maternity waiting shelters at hospitals and other health centres where expectant mothers can stay at the health centre while waiting to make their deliveries. In the shelters mothers can easily be monitored and when they go into labour or develop antenatal complications, be transferred to hospital wards for management and safe delivery.
Many pregnant women delay getting to health facilities as they face severe transport problems. This has often proved disastrous for the mothers.
In rural areas, some are taken to hospital in scotch cart or wheel barrows, which take long and are very uncomfortable, especially for complicated cases.
According to the Zimbabwe Demographic and Health Survey of 2010-11, the maternal mortality ratio in Zimbabwe is at 960 deaths per 100 000 live births.
This means about 10 women die for every 1000 live births.
This translates to about 3 000 women dying each year from pregnancy related conditions.
This is among the highest in the world and is double the average rate in Sub-Saharan Africa.
According to World Health Organisation estimates, maternal health complications are costing the country at least $132 million a year.
High maternal death figures in Zimbabwe can be attributed to many factors including high user fees at some health centres; inability to retain health care professionals, traditional and religious beliefs barring them to accessing care, among other issues.
An nurse at Sherukuru Clinic who preferred anonymity said the initiative will go a long way in reducing cases of maternal mortality in the area.
“Generally the bookings have increased since the completion of the Mother’s Waiting Shelter and we hope things will continue on that positive trend. This has seen a reduction in home deliveries,” said the nurse.
“We have also noted that male participation has also increased, more men are now accompanying their wives here for HIV and syphilis tests, bookings and other routine visits which was not the case before.”
The official said the construction of the Mother’s Waiting Shelter was collaboration among government, the community and Plan International.
“The villagers provided bricks; river and pit sand and water while Plan International through its WATCH (woman and their children’s health) program chipped in with funds,” said the nurse.
The four rooms have the capacity to carry three beds each although currently we have eight beds only.
“When mothers are here we can closely monitor them, where there are complications we can hire vehicles to the nearest hospital for specialist services. We are getting the money for hiring from the Health Transition Fund,” added the official.
Chinzou Village Headman, Elliot Chinzou commended stakeholders for coming up together for the noble initiative.
“We are very happy as community leaders because this means a health community. We will work closely with clinic officials and Village Health Workers to exhort our subjects to deliver at health centres as advantages of doing so need not to be reiterated. We will also lobby for male participation,” Chinzou said.
“We thank all those who participated in the project and we hope that kind of corporation and oneness is extended to other areas for the betterment of our communities.”
Despite the commitment set out in the millennium development goals, maternal mortality remains unacceptably high in many parts of the world.
In 2010, an estimated 285,000 maternal deaths occurred worldwide marking a climb down in Maternal Mortality Ratio (MMR) of 47 percent from the 1990 levels.
However, the decline has not been uniform across the globe as sub-Saharan Africa shoulders over half (56 percent) of the maternal mortality burden.
Maternal mortality is a global concern.
In 2000, the reduction of maternal mortality was adopted in the global action plan under Millennium Development Goal (MDG) 5.
The Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health and the Countdown to 2015 initiative, which track health systems and policy environments for improving maternal, newborn and child health have put maternity protection as part of global and national initiatives for improving maternal and newborn health.
The Countdown to 2015 initiative seeks to promote government leadership and inter-sectoral action for protecting pregnant and breastfeeding women and their infants, providing a strong call for collaboration between actors in health and labour sectors.