– A new maternal mortality study names HIV and AIDS as the cause of one in four maternal deaths in Zimbabwe.
The first comprehensive assessment of deaths resulting from pregnancy or childbirth revealed that 725 Zimbabwean women out of every 100,000 who deliver, die due to complications.
"The study findings have confirmed our worst fears: that indeed the maternal mortality ratio and the perinatal mortality rate are high, and present the biggest challenge for attainment of MDGs [Millennium Development Goals]," said Hilary Chiguvare of the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), which partnered with the University of Zimbabwe and other UN agencies to produce the report.
He noted that the HIV/AIDS responses in maternal health programmes appeared to be "very weak": of the 91 percent of pregnant women who visited antenatal clinics, only 4.7 percent knew their HIV status, and only 1.8 percent of HIV-positive pregnant women received antiretroviral (ARV) drugs to prevent mother-to-child transmission.
The second highest cause of death was postpartum haemorrhaging (excessive bleeding after delivery), followed by hypertension (high blood pressure) and sepsis (infection). Most maternal deaths occurred at home, where women had no expert care when they experienced complications.
Many women could not afford transport to distant health facilities, but even those who could often failed to get drugs or assistance from skilled health professionals. The fees charged by health facilities were another barrier.
Temporary shelters near health facilities, set up for expectant women unable to arrange emergency transport, had improved access to care. The Ministry of Health and Child Welfare, with funding from the Japanese government, recently started a programme to revitalize the "Mothers Waiting Homes", Chiguvare said.
The report also revealed that the 29 percent of pregnant women who belonged to the Apostolic Faith Christian sect were at greater risk of maternal death due to their belief that health problems should be treated only through prayer.
"The major challenge will be to develop a sensitive approach to the sect, which respects their right to religious freedom but also asserts women’s right to health."
The study concluded that nearly half the maternal deaths could be avoided by successful prevention and treatment of complications, and that "None of the interventions are complex or beyond the capacity of a functional health system in Zimbabwe."