HARARE – Expecting mothers are suffering ill-treatment at public health facilities before and after giving birth, with such practices now becoming the norm.
This worrying trend highlights the challenges faced in Zimbabwe’s underfunded public health system, with government failing to address the acute shortage of staff, drugs, equipment and infrastructure in general.
These challenges are compounded by the stark poverty and poor sanitary conditions in the country.
Public hospitals are overburdened, admitting numerous expecting mothers and treating several others in outpatients daily.
Overwhelmed by work-related pressures against the backdrop of poor salaries and deteriorating working conditions, some of the disgruntled health workers are venting their frustrations on expecting mothers and those who visit these overstretched public facilities with their infants.
Only last month, First Lady Auxillia Mnangagwa had to descend on staff at Parirenyatwa Group of Hospitals following complaints that nurses at the institution were being rude to patients.
Investigations into the conduct of staff at some of the major hospitals have already resulted in some workers getting suspended for neglecting their duties.
Earlier this year, a set of five-day-old twins was burnt to death in a nursery at Harare Central Hospital in a suspected case of negligence.
The mother of the twins, Belinda Balalika, reportedly discovered the deaths when she went for a breastfeeding session at midnight.
The twins were reportedly recovering from jaundice and had been put in the isolation ward for monitoring and recovery.
The babies were reportedly placed in an open cradle with a beam of light to provide heating.
“Something malfunctioned and the babies were burnt to death, but what is saddening is the fact that the staff did not check on the babies on time,” said a hospital official.
The forensic post-mortem carried out indicated the cause of death to be dehydration.
In September this year, Matabeleland North provincial medical director Alfred Muchara threatened disciplinary action against staff at Victoria Falls District Hospital following allegations of baby swapping at the institution.
The hospital launched an investigation after a couple, Faison Nyathi and his wife Juliet Dube, alleged that a nurse aide had swapped their baby boy with an infant’s corpse to cover up for negligence.
Dube (22) of Mkhosana suburb in the resort town reportedly gave birth to a baby boy on August 27.
She said she was shocked when the nurse aide told her two days later that the infant had died.
It is alleged that the nurses swapped her baby with another woman’s child who died after falling from a bed to the floor when she gave birth without assistance while nurses allegedly ignored her.
Muchara said only DNA tests would solve the puzzle, adding that heads would roll if the allegations were confirmed.
Police declined to comment on progress into the probe when contacted, referring all questions to the Health ministry.
The chief executive officer (CEO) at Victoria hospital told the Daily News on Sunday that the reports were not true, but said she was not authorised to comment on the issue.
A mother who declined to be named narrated a heart-rending tale of the ill-treatment she received at Mpilo Central Hospital in Bulawayo, and vowed she would never again in her lifetime set foot at that institution for maternal facilities.
“When I fell pregnant with my first child, I sacrificed the little I was earning to book for facilities at a private maternal clinic in the city.
“The prenatal visits went well, until the last minute when I endured over 36 hours in labour,” she told this publication.
Due to prolonged labour, a caesarian section had to be performed immediately, but this private clinic did not have the facilities.
“Authorities at the maternal clinic said there was no option but to transfer me to Mpilo Central Hospital; the institution I had for long despised. I guessed this was a moment designed for me to go and experience first-hand the stories I had been told by various sources,” she said.
“I endured all the ill-treatment from most of the staff members for two weeks, since my baby had to recover from some conditions prior to being discharged from hospital,” she recalled ruefully.
“I remember begging to be discharged from the hospital, at some point shedding tears, even though my daughter was not yet well. I remember going to breastfeed her in the neo-natal unit, where the nurses were so harsh and did not entertain ‘silly’ questions from mothers.
Mpilo Central hospital CEO Solwayo Ngwenya said public hospitals are the safest institutions where patients are likely to meet specialised personnel.
“It’s not a curse giving birth at a public hospital. It is very safe and you can meet the finest doctors.
“The reports you hear are just social talk. It is my job to ensure that patients are not mistreated here. In fact, my clinical director handles that department,” he said.
“A patient sometimes dies and people think that not much effort has been made to save a life.
“At Mpilo, we are doing very well; the hospital has tightened its policies.”