HARARE – Harare Central Hospital is struggling to cope with a surging number of women seeking free maternal health services — creating bed shortages in the process at one of the country’s major referral centres.
This comes as some council-run polyclinics are still charging maternity fees, eight months after government policy to scrap them.
Health and Child Care acting permanent secretary Gibson Mhlanga told journalists last week that Harare Central Hospital was struggling to cope with pregnant women seeking their services that some were now approaching Parirenyatwa Group of Hospitals.
“The government’s policy on free maternal health has seen a lot of women seeking help at one of the country’s major referral centres, Harare Central Hospital and the influx is being exacerbated by some council clinics that are still charging maternal fees,” Mhlanga said.
Harare Central Hospital has a capacity to house 100 women at a time but was currently taking between 150 and 200, said Mhlanga.
This has created shortages of beds for the maternity ward.
In December, President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government scrapped maternity fees and ordered free treatment of children under the age of five, as well as people above 65 years as part of its 100-day action plan.
The new measures are expected to reduce both the maternal and infant mortality rates which spiked at the height of the country’s economic problems in 2008.
Although pregnancy is not a disease, it is associated with risks before, during and immediately after birth which if not taken care of can result in maternal death, health experts contend.
Despite a decreasing rate in maternal mortality, Zimbabwe still remains one of the countries with the highest incidences.
This is attributed to delays in seeking health care, delays in reaching a health facility and delays in receiving expeditious and effective care at the health facility.
Although it is government policy not to charge user fees for maternity services, some facilities still charge some indirect service fees.
Zimbabwe’s maternal death rate currently stands at 614 per 100 000 live births, according to the 2014 United Nations Children’s Fund statistics.
Some of the reasons that lead to high mortality among pregnant women, according to World Health Organisation include, “religious and traditional objectors to modern medicine, for instance refusal to seek care at the health facilities, refusal of blood transfusion, refusal of modern medicines or surgical procedures, and use of traditional uterine contracting medicines to quicken labour.
Apart from maternal deaths, Zimbabwe is still struggling to reduce the number of infants who die at birth.
According to the Zimbabwe Demographic Health Survey (ZDHS)’s 2015 report, at least one in every 15 live births die before reaching the age of five.
The report further states that the level of under-five mortality is 69 deaths per 1 000 live births.
The estimate of the maternal mortality ratio for the seven-year period preceding the 2015 ZDHS report was 651 deaths per 100 000 live births — that is, for every 1 000 births in Zimbabwe, there were about seven maternal deaths.