Senior Health Reporter
The Government of Japan has signed a US$1,3 million partnership grant with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) to support a programme aimed to assist 60 000 pregnant women in Zimbabwe.
The assistance comes as the Covid-19 pandemic has put a strain on the country’s health delivery system which has raised glaring inequalities among the population in access to health care.
Through the project “Strengthening Comprehensive Emergency Obstetric and Neonatal Care in Covid-19 Hotspots in Zimbabwe”, Japan will provide support to improve the provision of maternal health care services within the context of Covid-19, specifically strengthening the referral system and ensuring the continuity of assisted delivery care in Harare and Bulawayo.
The support includes the procurement of medical equipment and expendable supplies to manage obstetric emergencies and prevent and control infection, including personal protective equipment (PPE). It also includes the procurement of ambulances for several hospitals in order to strengthen emergency care, and the training of maternity care providers in emergency obstetric care and management of Covid-19 during pregnancy.
Japan Ambassador to Zimbabwe, Mr Satoshi Tanaka said women and children usually suffer the most during a crisis such the Covid-19 pandemic.
“During a crisis, it is often women and children who suffer the most. Japan decided to provide this support to help ensure that maternity services are prioritised, and mothers and new-born babies receive the care that they deserve,” he said.
Zimbabwe continues to record high maternal mortality rates at 462 deaths per 100 000 live births as of 2019. The number is expected to have risen due to COVID-19.
According to UNFPA, referral hospitals in Harare and Bulawayo have seen a marked increase in maternal and perinatal deaths as they receive some of the most critical cases from around the country, including delayed referrals.
UNFPA Zimbabwe Country Representative, Dr Esther Muia said the provision of maternal health care, including emergency obstetric and neonatal care services, was severely disrupted during the first wave of Covid-19.
“This project aims to reverse the negative tide in maternal and perinatal outcomes, and increase the resilience of the health system in Harare and Bulawayo to cope with the impact of Covid-19,” she said.
“This will help to avert preventable maternal and perinatal deaths through strengthening the capacity of the central hospitals and maternity polyclinics to provide effective and efficient comprehensive emergency obstetric and neonatal care.
“We are extremely grateful for this support by the Government of Japan and look forward to even greater cooperation in the future to change the lives of women, children and families as a whole.”
There are an estimated 15 000 and 45 000 deliveries annually in Bulawayo and Harare respectively. Of these, about 9 000 (15 percent) women have obstetric complications and require access to emergency obstetric care services.