DOMESTIC violence is a major cause of miscarriages, a problem that afflicts millions of women around the world, a recent World Health Organisation (WHO) report has said.According to the report, up to 70 per cent of women experience physical or sexual violence in their lifetime.
In sub-Saharan Africa, for example, between 13 and 45 per cent of women suffer assaults by their intimate partners. "Among women aged between 15 and 44, acts of violence cause more deaths and disability than cancer, malaria, traffic accidents and wars combined," says the WHO report. However, the report gave no comparative data.
Doctors though, are yet to establish fully the reasons for premature births but there has now been established a point of opinion convergence with psychologists and other professionals as to the role domestic violence plays in causing miscarriages and physical disabilities in women. During last year's celebrations to mark International Women's Day, President Jakaya Kikwete deplored the pervasiveness of violence against women, saying it was unacceptable violation of human rights of the highest order.
Victims (women) endure both physical and emotional torture with long persisting effects, said the president.Another study recently carried out on the subject by 'KIVULINI' a local non-governmental organization (NGO) defending women's rights, indicates that Tanzania is ranked among 50 leading countries with high percentage of domestic violence.
In view of discerned rampant domestic violence against women and girls, chances for pregnant mothers to undergo miscarriages or give birth to premature babies were apparently huge.Explaining what premature birth actually implied, a seasoned gynaecologist from the Muhimbili National Hospital, Dr Hengribert Owenya, said a normal pregnancy lasts approximately 40 weeks. Premature or preterm birth is defined medically as a baby born earlier than 37 weeks of pregnancy.
"Although actual causes of premature birth are unknown, there are many risky factors that increase the chances of babies being born early. These include unfavourable maternal age (below 18 or older than 40 years), too much alcohol taking or use of illicit drugs, smoking during pregnancy, cervical abnormalities, recurring infections and nervousness," Dr Owenya explains.
Other factors include infections affecting sexual organs, kidneys, bladder and urinary tract, high fever of more than 38 degrees Celsius during pregnancy, diabetes, high blood pressure, chronic illnesses and anxiety.Morogoro based psychologist, social scientist and retired social welfare lecturer, Dr Frida Mola says anxiety resulting from beating, threats and rape as well as other forms of violence could trigger a chain of devastating events.
"The basic maternal health education provided to expecting mothers when attending clinics, for example, can help minimize chances of premature births. But domestic violence cannot be stopped abruptly. Serious national campaign against domestic violence must be carried out. Thousands of women, almost in all regions have suffered silently in the hands of merciless partners," Dr Mola explains.
She had more; "In Tanzania for example, domestic violence has pushed women to do things that they never wished to do such as prostitution. Many families have fallen apart and street children have subsequently increased in number," she observedVerute Otham (39), a divorcee and mother of three is a food vendor in Buguruni area in Dar es Salaam. She condemns male partners who react violently even for trivial matters.
Explaining why she separated from her husband five years ago, Verute said a week before she happened to read a 'strange' text message from her former husband's mobile phone."He went to the bath-room leaving his mobile phone in his pocket. Usually he takes it wherever he goes. A text message ring tone sounded loud. I picked it and read the message.
It obviously came from a lover. I inquired about his relationship with the woman who sent the message. He was furious. He roughed me up instead of making apology," she explained.She added; "Two weeks later he returned home late at night. I opened the door for him. I set the table but forgot to put a glass of water at the table. He capitalized on the mistake and flogged me with a long wooden cooking spoon (mwiko).
I was four months pregnant. It was painful and I had miscarriage. I decided to leave the family and currently earns my own living," Verute explained.
Halima Mwenegoha who is a human right activist based in Dar es Salaam, suggests that social support mechanisms should be put in place to help avert stress levels among women.
"There should be well established powerful local committees on social services for protection of human rights. These must be empowered to enable them to respond promptly to grievances aired by women and girls in their respective localities," Halima proposes.She had more; "Health centres especially in rural areas are not furnished with life-supporting incubators for premature babies. Therefore rightful measures are necessary to prevent factors causing premature births including domestic violence," Halima observes.
Dr Stanley Lyimo from Muhimbili National Hospital (MNH) agrees with fellow specialists on the need to stop domestic violence, which has silently caused agony to women and girls in different communities, rural and urban areas alike. "Lifestyles also contribute to premature births. Being underweight or overweight before getting pregnant also increases chances for premature births. Also too little time in-between next pregnancies (between 6 and 9 months) can encourage a condition known as pre-eclampsia (blood clotting) leading to early births," he explains
Clarifying on long-term health problems facing premature babies, Dr Lyimo said such babies if not well taken care of could face health complications in life. These include stammering, impaired vision and hearing defects, intellectual disabilities and respiratory problems.