By Michael Gwarisa recently in Mapanzure
TRADITIONAL leaders have always been key figures in the upholding of societal standards and effecting laws that guide and protect citizens since time immemorial.
Under the African setup, traditional leaders in this case, chiefs, village headmen, district officers, Councillors among others play a pivotal role in determining the fate of their people.
In Zimbabwe, traditional leaders hold key functions even at top political levels as the constitution of Zimbabwe recognises the role of traditional chiefs and leaders. It is through their influence that traditional leadership structures achieve unimaginable results both politically and socially.
Since 2013, traditional leaders across the country’s 10 provinces united for the purposes of improving primary healthcare for their communities in particular pregnant mothers who in the past would deliver their new born babies under some unhealthy and unorthodox environments.
Through a Save the Children Zimbabwe initiative dubbed “Strengthening Community Participation in Health Projects,” which seeks among other things to stimulate communities’ involvement in primary health care services for the purposes of reducing both maternal and infant mortality rates, traditional leaders have made strides in fighting infant and maternal mortality in their areas.
In most parts of the country, Village heads and chiefs have introduced penalties in the form of cash, livestock or hard labour as a form of punishing offenders who would have given birth outside prescribed health institutions.
Under the same initiative, compulsory Antenatal Care Visits for both husband and wife have been introduced, maternal fees have been scrapped and children below the age of five get treatment free. As a result, most traditional leaders have made HIV testing and institutional delivery compulsory.
In an interview with HealthTimes News, Headman Mugova, Obert Zifungo of Mapanzure said involvement of traditional leaders in the fight towards promoting basic access to health services for communities has seen infant and maternal deaths cases drop significantly in the area.
“In this area, our main focal clinic in Shumba Clinic here in Mapanzure. Our Health Center Committee comprises of 14 members of which seven of them are traditional leaders. The chairman himself is heir to the Mapanzure throne which means he is an influential person when it comes to decision making and enforcing rules.
“Unlike other areas where they still use penalties to encourage people to take up basic maternal health services, here we have since stopped that practice and people are now giving birth at the clinic willingly, without being pushed,” said Zifungo.
Headman Chikava, Ernest Chikava who is also the chairperson for the Shumba Clinic Heath Centre Committee said maternal deaths at the clinic had significantly dropped.
“In 2017 alone, we have not recorded any maternal deaths and under five deaths. On home deliveries, we have not received any as of yet.
“In January, we received 5 deliveries in January, February 9,deliveries, March 1 delivery, April 6 deliveries, May 5deliveries and June 8,” said Chikava.
Petronella Chapasuka Nurse In Charge at Shumba attributed the success in improved community participation in health projects to the participation of traditional leaders in the HCC.
Meanwhile, the project strengthening community participation in health projects has come to an end despite calls by traditional leaders to have the program extended.
In the period from January to June 2017, Save the Children was implementing the project in 56 clinics across seven districts which are Zibagwe, Bikita, Masvingo, Mhondoro, Guruve, Shamva and Mberengwa through the aid of their implementing partner Community Working Group of Health (CWGH) which worked in other six districts which are Bulilima, Insiza, UMP, Goromonzi, Buhera and Mutasa. The project was funded by DFID.
Kudakwashe Mutetitwa Chairperson for Twin Tops Health Center Committee in Mhondoro said the project had transformed lives tremendously in the area as most villages in Mhondoro were now coming to the centre for treatment of different ailments.
“People used to walk 60 km to the Clinic in Turf (Zimplats), now this place offers convenience to everyone. Even some from Battlefields come here. What we have done as a committe and traditional leaders is that whoever delivers their child at home pays a fine of $10 and whoever helps a woman deliver from home another $10.
“It is our wish that Save the Children extends its stay in Zimbabwe and the project strengthening community participation in health projects stays a bit longer so that we also build another clinic that caters for some from Block B who are still faced with the long distance issue,” said Mutetiwa.
Twin Tops has not received any infant, under 5 or maternal death since 2015.
In an interview, Save the Children Zimbabwe Communications Advisor Sophie Hamandishe said, “the Strengthening Community Participation in Health Projects has been transformative. It has seen rural health centers benefiting from increased community involvement through resuscitation of Health Center Committees, improved infrastructure that includes newly constructed Waiting Mothers Shelters, renovation of clinics, staff houses, and scrapping of user fees.
“It has empowered patients to know their rights in relation to health services, while effectively increasing demand, access and utilization of Maternal and Newborn Child Health services. Statistics from all the project’s partner health centers indicate an increase institutional deliveries, a reduction in home deliveries as well as maternal and infant deaths, eg Twin Tops clinic in Mhondoro Ngezi had no martenal deaths or under 5 deaths since 2015” she said.