BY SHARON BUWERIMWE
VILLAGE heads in Cyclone Idai-hit districts of Manicaland province are imposing stiff penalties on families with malnourished children and pregnant women who deliver at home and prematurely wean off their babies.
They said this was meant to fight needless infant deaths.
Health experts say breastfeeding has cognitive and health benefits for both infants and mothers and is critical during the first six months of life, helping prevent diarrhoea and pneumonia, two major causes of infant deaths.
Chief Mapungwana from Chigonda village in Chipinge told NewsDay Weekender that those who are found on the wrong side of the law are made to pay heavy fines.
“We sat down with village heads and introduced this law because we had noticed that there were many cases of home deliveries and maternal deaths. We encourage women to deliver their babies at hospitals so that they easily get medical assistance to avoid unnecessary deaths,” Mapungwana said.
“Families who wean off their babies early face serious penalties. We make them pay cows and goats as a way to avoid cases of malnutrition in children. Some families won’t be having other supplements to give to the child, so the best way is to make them continue breastfeeding until the age of two years.”
He said early child marriages in their community had declined following introduction of heavy fines.
Village head George Maphosa added: “We have our own people and village health workers who come to report to us that there are some people who are not going to the clinic with their babies or not breast feeding. And we personally deal with those people. We have been reaping good results after enforcing that law.”
Parts of Chimanimani and Chipinge districts were ravaged by Cyclone Idai in 2019, which severely affected nutrition of children below five years.
Zimbabwe has a high burden of multiple forms of malnutrition, according to the Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment Committee 2021 survey.
A total of 4,3 million people, including 2,2 million children, are reported to be in need of life-saving health, HIV and nutrition services, according to humanitarian agencies.