Bulawayo Faces Maternal Health Crisis

Urgent Calls for Reform as Zimbabwe's Maternal Care System Struggles

by Oluwatosin Alabi

In Bulawayo, Zimbabwe’s second-largest city, a concerning trend has emerged that underscores the dire state of the country’s maternal healthcare system. Within just two months, from October to November 2023, the city witnessed an alarming number of 70 home-based births. This situation, as reported by the Zimbabwe Coalition on Debt and Development (ZIMCODD), brings to light the urgent need for the government and health authorities to reevaluate and address the challenges plaguing maternal health care in Zimbabwe.

The surge in home births in Bulawayo is a symptom of the broader crisis within Zimbabwe’s health service sector. Factors contributing to this trend include prohibitively high fees for ambulance services and maternity care, which have become insurmountable barriers for many expecting mothers. Moreover, the capital city, Harare, has not been immune to similar challenges, with numerous instances of medical negligence and disrespect in maternal care being reported. Such demeaning experiences, coupled with a lack of accountability from health professionals at local clinics, have further eroded public trust in the healthcare system.

ZIMCODD’s update, titled “Maternal Health: A Threat to Human Capital Development,” highlights the systemic issues causing this crisis. Despite the National Development Strategy 1’s commitment to providing quality healthcare services, the maternal mortality rate in Zimbabwe remains alarmingly high at 363 per 100,000 live births. This figure starkly indicates the country’s struggle to meet Sustainable Development Goal 3.1, which aims to reduce the global maternal mortality ratio to less than 70 per 100,000 live births by 2030.

The brain drain in the health sector has been identified as a critical factor exacerbating the problem. Since 2020, approximately 4,500 health personnel have left Zimbabwe, driven abroad by poor wages and working conditions. This exodus has significantly depleted the country’s healthcare workforce, further compromising the quality of care available to pregnant women.

In response to these challenges, ZIMCODD calls on the government to prioritize and invest in maternal health services. This includes ensuring access to quality healthcare facilities, skilled professionals, and essential medical supplies for mothers and infants. The organization also stresses the importance of adhering to the Abuja Declaration, which recommends allocating at least 15% of the national budget to healthcare to adequately support the sector.

Moreover, ZIMCODD advocates for collaboration between the government, civil society organizations, and development partners. Such partnerships are crucial for pooling resources, expertise, and knowledge to implement effective strategies and interventions aimed at improving maternal health outcomes in Zimbabwe.

The situation in Bulawayo is a stark reminder of the critical state of maternal healthcare in Zimbabwe. It calls for immediate action from all stakeholders to ensure that every woman has access to the care and support she needs during pregnancy and childbirth. As the country faces this crisis, the well-being of mothers and infants hangs in the balance, making it imperative to address these challenges with the urgency and dedication they deserve.

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