Bad Roads Induced Maternal Deaths Fears Rise Ahead of Rainy Season

EVEN though Memory Chimpinyi (26) from Skyline in Chimanimani gave birth to her baby a month before the Tropical Cyclone Idai disaster struck, the after effects of the storm are currently having a direct negative impact on her post-natal hospital visits.

By Michael Gwarisa in Chimanimani

Every month she visits Chimanimani Rural District Hospital which is located eight kilometers away from her home through a meandering road and rugged terrain. The dilapidated road and bridges which were washed away by the ferocious monsoon brings some inconceivable anxiety and trauma to many who witnessed the cyclone first hand.

Even though road works have commenced on the road that links Skyline and Chimanimani town, villagers around the community feel the construction company came through a little too late and they might not finish the job before the rainy season descends upon them again. She also fears for her pregnant friend who is due to deliver in two months time.

What if she goes to deliver and since she is due in November, it might rain heavily and because there are no functioning bridges at the moment, she might not get help in the event of her developing a complication.  

“I lost a friend during the cyclone period, we delivered our babies the same day and on 15 March, she and her baby were swept away, I still miss her and would not want to lose my other friend as well,” she said.

Memory’s fears are genuine and the future of pregnant and expecting mothers is bleak ahead of the 2019/20 rain season owing to the snail’s pace the roads road infrastructure projects are taking. Due to inaccessibility of health care centers at the peak of the Cyclone Idai, most maternal cases were flown by helicopters to Chipinge and Mutambara Hospitals through assistance from the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), Ace Ambulance services among others.

Most health care centres in Chimanimani and Chipinge offer health services to patients from as far as Mozambique who at times have to walk two days to access health services from Zimbabwean health institutions. Majority of these are maternal cases and malaria patients from Mozambique. However, the main bridges that link Mozambique and Zimbabwe were also washed away by the Cyclone Idai leaving pregnant and expecting mothers in a state of quandary.

Women from Mozambique come health services at Muchadziya clinic in Chimanimani

According to the World Population Report (2019), pregnant women in disaster hit areas are at greater risk of developing complications due to trauma and malnutrition. As a result, many women miscarry or deliver prematurely. The lack of conditions for clean delivery also increase the risk of fatal infection for both the mother and the child.

Speaking to journalists during a Post Idai Recovery assessment Media tour organised by the World Health Organisation (WHO), UNDP and the Ministry of Health and Child Care (MoHCC), Chipinge District Hospital acting District Medical Officer (DMO), Dr Ozimmo Matekenya said there was need to urgently fix the road infrastructure inorder to avoid maternal and post natal mortality cases in the forthcoming rainy season.

“Patients were being airlifted from Chimanimani to Chipinge district hospital during the Cyclone Idai period. We however did not have any maternal mortality during the Cyclone period. In health, generally speaking, time is very important, we talk about the golden hour.

“If we have an emergency but there is not proper road network so that the patient can arrive on time to the hospital definitely it will affect the outcome of the patient. I terms of bad roads it affects lot to the maternal side because of transportation its very difficult. At times other health centres so that we dispatch an ambulance, but do to the bad roads, it delays everything may result in worse scenarios,” said Dr Matekenya.

Road works on Chimanimani skyline road

According to statistics, Zimbabwe loses 2, 400 women to maternal mortality and should the road infrastructure remain in the current state, more cases will be recorded from Cyclone Idai hit areas according to Muchadziya Clinic Nurse In Charge, Mr Tatenda Zuze.

We need to be very careful and act swiftly to construct and repair bridges and roads since failure to do so could result in an increase in maternal and pre-natal deaths. You might have seen on your way here there is a bridge that is supposed to be connecting us to the nearest community, it’s in bad shape, and we have a poor road network.

“Should it rain and we still have this problem, pregnant mothers and villagers won’t even be able to come over here for medical care. Should we also record maternal complications, it will also be difficult for us to transfer them since there won’t any network to link us to other health institutions and this might increase the number of maternal deaths,” said Mr Zuze.

Mr Zuze added that during the Cyclone Idai period, most maternal cases were flown from the clinic by helicopters to Chipinge referral hospital and Mutambara. The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), Ace Ambulances among other organisations were offering air ambulance servces to pregnant women in the affected areas.

Chimanimani Hospital Nurse in Charge, Mrs Tendai Masvaure urged government to expedite the road rehabilitation and recovery program to ensure the rainy season does not jeopardise the gains that have already been realised in combating various health challenges.

“During the Cyclone Idai period, maternal deaths which passed through here were five and by then we were now communicating with the Air Ambulances from Ace and we could call them and the women were air lifted to Chipinge. We had two who were injured in the Cyclone, the other had a spinal injury and the one had a miscarriage and a fractured humorous.

“Personally, I am not comfortable if it starts to rain, I end up thinking the Cyclone is back and the rivers will be washed away. Currently, with the roads, nothing has actually been done so far though we have seen the Masimba construction company which came a few weeks ago, we are worried and we hope they finish before the rainy season,” said Mrs Masvaure.

Mutambara Mission Hospital Medical Superintendent, Dr Emmanuel Mefor said they experienced various maternal health challenges during the Cyclone idai period as a result of the poor road network.

“Up to 23 pregnant women were flown in during the Cyclone Idai for attention. In terms of maternal health, we were really jittery because really, you can suspend other cases, but when it comes to the pregnant mother, you are just talking of life immediately. In the beginning, we struggled with electricity but later when electricity was restored, we eventually resume works.”

Meanwhile, the government of Zimbabwe through support from partners UNDP, World Health Organisation (WHO) and other United Nations (UN) agencies launched a combined US$96.5 million for two new projects to help more than 270,000 people affected by March’s devastating Cyclone Idai.

Cyclone Idai struck Zimbabwe in March 2019, causing extensive damage worth an estimated $622 million. Over 50,000 households were destroyed, directly affecting 270,000 people, including 60,000 who were displaced. Now, it is reported that up to $1.1 billion is needed to support Zimbabwe’s recovery and restore damaged infrastructure and livelihoods.

In the recovery project, the World Bank is providing a $72 million grant to fund the Zimbabwe Idai Recovery Project (ZIRP), which will provide immediate support for the most affected communities across nine districts. ZIRP will focus on rebuilding community infrastructure and restoring livelihoods through cash transfers, restoring agricultural crops and livestock production, and revitalizing basic healthcare services.


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