Maternal deaths soar amid fee scrapping hitch

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LACK of funding has hindered the scrapping of maternity fees in public hospitals and council clinics, leading to an increase in the number of women dying due to pregnancy related complications.

Elias Mambo

According to a 2012 Zimbabwe Demographic and Health Survey report, at least 10 women die every day of pregnancy-related complications, which is three times higher than the global average.

More than 10 months after the recently-ended coalition government announced it would scrap maternity fees, much to the relief of hard-pressed would-be parents, hospitals and council clinics are yet to effect the move, arguing that they need the money to cover extra medical costs.

Deputy Health and Child Care minister Paul Chimedza said scrapping of maternity fees would be done in phases depending on the availability of funds.

“Scrapping of maternity fees is done in phases depending on how much funds have been availed through the Health Transition Fund (HTF),” he said. “By July, we had received US$148 million and it means some areas of the country will scrap maternity fees while other parts will be paying.”

Last year Thokozani Khupe, deputy prime minister in the coalition government, and Harare mayor Muchadeyi Masunda clashed after Masunda dismissed Khupe’s push to scrap maternity fees at council clinics, describing the move as “unsustainable”. Masunda argued if user fees were scrapped there would be disaster in council-run clinics as standards would plummet.

Last year the United Kingdom strengthened its partnership with Unicef Zimbabwe and the Health ministry by announcing a US$500 million injection into the fund.

Contrary to Zanu PF’s threats before the July 31 polls that it will disengage from the Western donor-funded HTF, claiming the programme had been designed to prop up the MDC-T during the tenure of the inclusive government, Chimedza said the programme would continue.

“The programme is in its second year and we are quite happy with it and we will be part of it through its five years,” he said.

“A total of US$594 million was pledged under the programme. The fund we received this year (US$148 million) is meant for high-impact intervention. It provides support in terms of vaccines, new technology and support for reducing maternal and child mortality through abolishing user fees.”

Zimbabwe’s maternal mortality ratio, currently pegged at 960 per 100 000 live births, has continued to soar despite the introduction of the fund.

The distressing new figures come at a time when the World Health Organisation (WHO) says Zimbabwe is lagging behind in its efforts to achieve the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by 2015 on reducing child mortality, maternal health and combating HIV and Aids.

The MDGs Status Report 2012 claimed Zimbabwe was unlikely to meet all its MDGs by 2015, which include the eradication of poverty and hunger, as well as reducing the maternal mortality ratio to 174 per 100 000 live births.

Government hopes if maternity user fees are scrapped at all government institutions there would be improved access to basic and comprehensive maternal health services for all women.

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