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Desperate times in Zimbabwe mean home childbirth services rampant

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Zimbabwe‘s worsening health crisis is forcing desperate women to seek out traditional birth attendants, who often deliver babies using their bare hands with no sterilisation or post-natal care, reports API.

When her contractions became unbearably painful, 18-year-old Perseverance Kanyoza rushed to a maternity hospital in Zimbabwe’s capital, Harare. But, says an AP News report, the doors were closed amid a weeks-long strike by public health workers. With no money for private care, panic set in. A hospital guard directed her to a tiny apartment in the poor suburb of Mbare nearby. The midwife: a grandmother with no formal training and claiming to be guided by the Holy Spirit. Thirteen hours later, Kanyoza gave birth to a healthy baby girl. “It was a miracle,” she is quoted in the report as saying, with a beaming smile. “I feared for the worst. I didn’t know what to do after finding the hospital closed.”

Her baby was one of dozens delivered in the past week alone with the help of 72-year-old Esther Zinyoro Gwena. The report says she has become a local hero as the southern African country’s worst economic crisis in more than a decade is forcing desperate women to seek out traditional birth attendants who often deliver babies using their bare hands with no sterilization or post-natal care.

Some worried Zimbabweans say Gwena’s work only highlights the collapse of a health sector once regarded as one of the best in Africa. Doctors have been on strike for more than two months, seeking better pay than the roughly $100 they receive a month, and nurses and midwives in Harare walked off the job two weeks ago. Since then, Gwena said, she has delivered more than 100 babies and no mothers have died. She doesn’t charge for her services and helping stranded pregnant women is her concern.

“I never trained as a midwife. I started by befriending pregnant women at the church and then eight years ago I just started delivering babies. It is the holy spirit,” she said. “I have had no rest since the nurses’ strike started. The work is becoming too much for one person. I am even losing weight,” Gwena said in the report. She said she has been delivering up to 20 babies a day in her two-room apartment.

The city’s health director, Dr Prosper Chonzi, said such home childbirth services are becoming rampant. “Throughout Harare there are a lot of traditional birth attendants,” he said. “If you go to our clinics right now they are empty. Where are these women going to? They are now coming to deliver here. There are no follow-ups when these women have delivered. It’s really worrying.”

Chonzi said hygienic conditions such as water availability, infection prevention and disposal of placentas were a worry. “There is no proper management of blood and blood products,” he said. “After birth, what happens? There are certain processes that need to happen during labour and after labour both to the mother and to the child. These are now missed opportunities.” Those include helping to prevent HIV transmission from mother to child. The health director added, “I am really depressed, to say the least. Something needs to be done. This is not the way to deliver health services in an urban, local authority.” He told Gwena he would put in a word with his bosses to provide her with more gloves, cord clamps, sterile linens and other items.

The report says the pregnant women flooding Gwena’s apartment are happy to receive any assistance as state-provided services either become unavailable or sharply deteriorate. “Both my child and I could have died had it not been for Gogo (grandmother),” said Kanyoza, the new mother, making her way home.

Zimbabwe state doctors who were fired for going on strike have, meanwhile, rejected a government offer to return to work. According to an IoL report, President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government, which responded to the job boycott by firing 448 doctors and pursuing disciplinary action against more than 1,000 others, offered to reinstate them if they returned to work within 48 hours.

A report on the IoL site notes that the Zimbabwe Hospital Doctors Association (ZHDA) said the latest wage offer by the government would see the doctors earning a total package, including allowances, of about $240 per month.

“Sadly, the moratorium has come without a new offer on the table having been communicated to us,” ZHDA is quoted in the report as saying.

Read full AP News report

Report on the IoL site

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