COVID-19 has had devastating consequences on the delivery of sexual reproductive health (SRH) services and has rolled back several years of progress in improving maternal health.
Zimbabwe is still among countries with high maternal mortality rate (MMR) and research has proved that delays and even lack of access to proper healthcare is a major catalyst to MMR.
“The pandemic has seen critical resources diverted to containing the virus at the expense of sexual reproductive health services.
“Maternal deaths, infant mortality rates, still births and unsafe home deliveries were on the rise with women failing to access contraception and maternal healthcare services,” Citizens Health Watch executive director Fungisayi Dube said.
Critical maternal health services, like antenatal care (ANC) were hugely disrupted with indications that visits declined by 45% in 2020 (April-July) compared to same period in 2019.
ANC is a means to identify high-risk pregnancies and educate women so that they might experience a healthier pregnancy.
Most council-owned poly clinics were largely shut during the peak of the pandemic, forcing women to seek help from community birth attendants such as Mbare’s Mbuya Gwena (Esther Zinyoro).
“I could not just watch these women suffer and I had to do something. Many came to Edith Opperman, but it was closed and because I stay close people would sent them to my house,” Mbuya Gwena said.
She hit the news last year when she assisted over 400 women to give birth.
But critics lambasted the government for failing to prioritise SRH through funding.
“Citizens Health Watch implores government to put in place urgent measures to reinforce provision of sexual reproductive health services.
“SRHR must become an integral part of COVID-19 response planning in particular the provision of free maternal health care,” Dube said.
The implementation of this policy has been inconsistent with some charging while many said they had no back up funds for the policy.
“A government must commit to securing funding the provision of free SRHR services”. Government should desist from deceptive policies which are never accompanied by political will,” Dube said.
Stakeholders have often raised concerns that there is no genuine political will and energy toward developing sustainable policies that do not leave women’s maternal health a complete ridicule. Most women did not have access to SRH services which include contraception, maternal health due to lockdown measures which curtailed movement.
A local study (still under review for the journal BMC Pregnancy and childbirth) carried out at Mpilo Central Hospital noted that travel restrictions and emergency regulations have had significant impacts on maternity services, including staff shortages, resource stock-outs, and closure of antenatal clinics.
“Estimates of the indirect impact of COVID-19 on maternal and perinatal mortality expect it to be considerable, but little data is yet available,” the study noted.
This study compared maternal and perinatal morbidity and mortality before and after lockdown was implemented.
Some of the results indicated that between January and March and April to June 2020, average monthly deliveries fell from 747 to 681 and Caesarean section rates from 29,8% to 26,6%.
Women with unbooked pregnancies presenting in labour almost doubled from 4,4% to 8%.
There was no substantial change, however, in maternal mortality or severe maternal morbidity (post-partum haemorrhage, uterine rupture, severe preeclampsia/eclampsia), stillbirth rate or special care baby unit admission.
“There was a small increase in early neonatal death from an average of 18,7 to 24,0 deaths per month,” the report added.
- By Staff Reporter