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A Burnet Institute project to address the unacceptably high rate of maternal mortality in Zimbabwe has achieved a significant milestone with the refurbishment and construction of 11 new maternity waiting homes (MWH) for expectant mothers.
The Australian Ambassador to Zimbabwe, Her Excellency, Ms Suzanne McCourt attended the opening of the MWH at the Mazoe Bridge Clinic in Rushinga District, Mashonaland Central Province, on Tuesday, as part of the official handover of all 11 homes to the Rushinga community.
Mashonaland Central, located in Zimbabwe’s north-east, has the country’s highest rate of home deliveries at almost 50 percent, compared to the national average of 35 percent.
Image: Mothers-to-be at Chimanda WMH
Burnet Senior Program Manager Mary-Ann Nicholas said having a place to wait before giving birth would make a significant difference for women in the district who live remotely.
“Evidence has shown that these facilities have the potential to reduce perinatal mortality in rural areas of Zimbabwe with low geographic access to hospitals,” Mary-Ann said.
“More than two-thirds of all childhood deaths in Zimbabwe occur between the time a women learns she is pregnant and her child’s second birthday.”
“A large number of these deaths are due to preventable infections and delay in seeking care.”
Ambassador McCourt said the construction and refurbishment of the MWHs would enhance access for women who would otherwise not use health services.
“Eliminating the risks associated with home deliveries will help save the lives of women and children in Zimbabwe,” the Ambassador said.
“We are proud, as Australia, to have supported such a worthwhile initiative.”
There has been an increasing trend of home deliveries in Zimbabwe since 1999, in the context of a weakened health delivery system and economic hardships.
Less than 30 per cent of women and their babies receive immediate postnatal care, with the majority of mothers sent home immediately after delivery or delivering at home.
The nation’s maternal mortality rate is extremely high at 725 per 100,000 live births.
Image: Community celebrations at the opening of the Mazoe Bridge WMH
“The goal of this project is to increase demand and improve the quality of facility-based maternal health care in the district,” Ms Nicholas said.
“Mashonaland Central has suffered from longstanding neglect in terms of resource allocation, but this new facility will help to redress the balance.”
The refurbishment of non-functioning MWHs and construction of new homes throughout the district is part of a three-year Australian NGO Cooperation Program project, implemented by Burnet and the Organization for Public Health Interventions and Development.
The project includes the development of an ‘action birth card’ to be used by nurses and midwives as a planning tool for pregnant women in rural Zimbabwe.