Respect Women in Zimbabwe’s Right to Health

Zimbabwe still has a long way to go in achieving universal access to reproductive health with almost half of the women in rural areas failing to access family planning methods.

The second target, according to Millennium Development Goal number five of reducing the maternal mortality ratio to 174 deaths per 100 000 live births is also a dream still to come true, according to national indicator surveys conducted in the country.

The first comprehensive assessment of deaths resulting from pregnancy or childbirth released at the end of last year by the United Nations Population Fund, which partnered with the University of Zimbabwe and other UN agencies to produce the report, revealed that 725 women out of every 100 000 who deliver, die due to complications, a very high figure compared to the MDG’s target of 174 deaths per 100 000 live births.

HIV and Aids, postpartum hemorrhage (excessive bleeding after delivery), hypertension and sepsis (infection) are cited as the major causes of maternal deaths.

The UNFPA report further indicates that most maternal deaths occurred at home, where women had no expert care when they experienced complications.

It also said that the 29 percent of pregnant women who belonged to the Apostolic sect were at greater risk of maternal death due to their belief that health problems should be treated only through prayer.

The report further says the major challenge will be to develop a sensitive approach to the sect, which respects their right to religious freedom but also asserts women’s right to health.

The study advises that nearly half the maternal deaths could be avoided by successful prevention and treatment of complications, and that none of the interventions are complex or beyond the capacity of a functional health system in Zimbabwe.

Another report released by the Ministry of Health and Child Welfare in conjunction with United Nations agencies on maternal and peri-natal mortality (2007) said a total of 364 women in Zimbabwe died due to avoidable pregnancy complications in 2006 alone.

The study also attributed the deaths of 628 infants, during the same period, mainly to pre-term births.

However, the study was quick to point out that the figures are not a true reflection of the actual figures on the ground saying there was “gross under-reporting” of deaths at district level from community and at provincial levels from health facilities.

According to the study, 63 percent of deaths occurred just after delivery (postpartum), 24 percent during pregnancy (antenatal) and 16 percent during delivery (intrapartum).

The study showed that most women who died delivered at home.

“Effective interventions exist to treat these complications (haemorrhage, hypertension/ eclampsia, sepsis and obstructed labour) and deaths from them are avoidable.

“Successful prevention and treatment of these complications represents the potential to reduce maternal deaths by 46 percent. None of the interventions are complex or beyond the capacity of a functioning health system in Zimbabwe,” read part of the report.

Part of a longer article at


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