18 June 2012

Zimbabwe: ZWRCN Women Empowerment - the Tragedy of Mrs X


"Having tried to have a baby for three long years, I finally conceived in March 2007.

"My happiness was soon thwarted when I miscarried in May of the same year. I felt devastated. "Rumours started doing the rounds that I was barren. My in-laws called me all sorts of derogatory names. "I remember vividly one day when I visited my mother-in-law at the village in Nyanga. "She sat me down and told me that she was taking me to a certain traditional healer within the village.

"The healer would clean my womb because, according to the 'gynaecologist' my mother-in-law, there was something in my womb causing the miscarriages. "I recall her exact words being, 'nyoka yako inodyira vana mudumbu', loosely translated to mean that my insides were devouring the foetus. "I felt so scared but out of desperation, I agreed to go with her to the healer.

"The healer initially gave me some strange-looking roots which I was supposed to boil in five litres of water then drink one litre of that water daily for the next five days. "I vomited each time I partook of that concoction. I was, however, assured by my mother-in-law that this was a normal process of cleansing the womb.

"That was the first 'treatment'. After successfully completing the initial stage, I was then given some powder with which to consume with porridge every morning for three days.

"Though the powder was very bitter, I complied out of desperation. According to the healer, the powder would help strengthen my womb. I fell pregnant again in June 2008 but miscarried again after two months. I was devastated and lost all hope.

"In 2011, my husband insisted that we try for another baby. In October of that year, I was excited to discover that I was pregnant.

"I took my time. I did not rush for ante-natal care because I was not sure if I would successfully carry the pregnancy to term.

"I said prayers of thanks giving as each month passed. I never had any complications, not even nausea or morning sickness.

"I was as fit as a fiddle. In the 28th week of that pregnancy, I began to experience serious backaches.

"They got worse by the day. I visited the local clinic whereupon after examination, they referred me to the hospital.

"By that time, I could hardly walk unaided. At the hospital all hell broke loose.

"I was informed that my baby was not in the correct position and my blood pressure was also very high that I was not going to be able to deliver in a normal way. I needed urgent surgery.

"My husband and I feared the worst and kept praying for a normal, safe delivery.

"I stayed in hospital for four days, struggling with the pain but consoled by the hope that my baby had at least carried to term and would soon join us.

"On the fifth day, my husband and I consented to emergency Caesarean surgery. The doctor who was supposed to perform the operation only showed up an hour after scheduled time.

"The operation lasted only a few minutes, but my baby was already dead. After surgery I stayed in the hospital a further seven days, battling with heavy bleeding.

"In the end, though saddened and frustrated, I was just relieved upon realising how close I had come several times to losing my own life."

This story is just one account among many other horrific experiences faced by women in Zimbabwe. In a country where maternal mortality rate has reached incredible proportions of up to 960 per 100 000 live births, it becomes critical to remain cognisant of the

urgent need for action to correct the various circumstances of women that often culminate in needless and otherwise preventable death.

Often, maternal mortality is compounded by the "three delays" in which women: delay to make the critical decision to seek medical assistance; experience delays in actually reaching health care facilities due to transport and other challenges; experience further delays in receiving adequate care at the health facilities themselves.

As in the case of the woman in the story above, delays in seeking antenatal care are common place and this is one of the main factors contributing to high maternal mortality. A number of women die from otherwise fixable complications. Society too also carries a big responsibility where maternal health is concerned.

For the woman in the story, her fertility and childbearing apparently seemed to be her only acknowledged contribution in the family she had been married into.

Her status as a woman within the family and larger community depended completely on her role as a mother. Such desperate circumstances claim the lives of many women as they expose their bodies to all sorts of risks in order to gain acceptance.

A study conducted by the World Health Organisation, "Why Did Mrs 'X' Die", explores these and other factors confronting pregnant women, and tells the story of maternal mortality though one anonymous woman's death.

In the study presented through video, Mrs "X" -- who basically symbolises any ordinary, pregnant woman in the village -- encounters a series of roadblocks to various escape routes that could have potentially saved her life.

On the surface, Mrs "X" succumbed to heavy bleeding before delivery, but deeper investigation revealed that she had been long at risk way before.

In short, her death had been accelerated by a number of unmet needs for maternal care in the community.

Among other things, access to family planning could have saved her an unnecessary pregnancy in her advanced age in the first place.

Improved status of women, access to community based maternity services and access to first level referral service are all factors that could liberate Mrs "X" and indeed other women from the maternal mortality road.

Recently the Zimbabwe Women's Resource Centre & Network and 12 NGO partners working in areas of sexual reproductive health, gender and women's rights launched a campaign dubbed "Ridza Mhere/Hlab'umkhosi" for improved maternal health services in rural areas.

The campaign, which is ongoing, seeks to raise awareness and rein in the support and commitment of policymakers to halt maternal mortality by addressing the socio-economic circumstances confronting the Mrs "X's" of Zimbabwe.

Rural women are at relatively higher risk of maternal death than women existing in higher economic strata. A huge number die because of poverty, ignorance and social injustices.

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