HARARE, ZIMBABWE - In some remote Zimbabwean districts, local communities and governments have created "maternity waiting homes" at hospitals, where expecting mothers can stay during the last six weeks of their pregnancies. The homes, built with European Union funding, are aimed at reducing maternal mortality and educating new mothers about how to look after their newborns.
That is Nomalanga, a newborn child crying at St. Luke’s Hospital in the Lupane district, about 600 kilometers southwest of Harare. She is next to her mother, Sethule Ndlovu, one of the women who have benefited from the new "maternity waiting homes."
The European Union is funding the construction of the homes as one of the ways to reduce Zimbabwe’s high maternal mortality rate, which the United Nations says is now about 614 deaths in every 100,000 pregnancies.
EU health adviser Dr. Paolo Barduagni explained the importance of the facilities.
“To prevent labor happening far away from clinic and we do not have time to reach the health service. The issue is to monitor the pregnancy during the last weeks and to prevent what can be prevented in terms of complications during the delivery," said Barduagni. "And the social communication; there is a passage of information, experiences, attitudes by women in the same condition; these socially have great importance.”
This district of Lupane has only four ambulances and it can take three hours to respond to a call. It is exactly that situation that the maternity homes are designed to prevent, as expecting mothers can now spend up to the final six weeks of their pregnancy at a hospital.
That will avoid hemorrhage, which the government says is the major contributor of deaths of women during delivery.
As a result of the waiting homes, the number of pregnant women receiving prenatal care is now about 70 percent, up from 57 percent, while mothers accessing care after giving birth has nearly tripled to 78 percent.
Dr. Nkazimulo Tshuma, the acting medical officer for Lupane, said the government has been overwhelmed by the response to the waiting centers.
"The response has been good, indeed. The capacity is 80, but we usually have above 100. So that shows how our community has responded to it," said Tshuma.
"They really understand the idea. But all the same, there are a few mothers who do not understand the concept. But we continue to engage the community… the community leadership; the chiefs, we also engage them so that they encourage mothers so that they come to stay in those mothers’ waiting rooms," said Tshuma.
Sarudzai Makiwa, is expecting her fourth child, two of whom were delivered here.
"Now the place is better. There used to be a problem of accommodation and where to cook; now there are eight rooms, there are toilets, bathrooms and a cooking area. There are now beds and mosquito nets, and even television sets. So our health problems have been addressed. We used to pay $10, all that has been scrapped," she said.
As part of its efforts to reduce high maternal mortality in Zimbabwe, President Robert Mugabe’s government got rid of hospital fees for expecting mothers in 2012 after receiving funding from international institutions such as USAID, the EU, UNICEF and the U.N. Population Fund.
The government says the number of expecting mothers giving birth at home has decreased and it hopes high maternal mortality decreases, too.