A safe maternity in the interior

FIRST Lady Esther Lungu listens to Luyando Namwenda during the commissioning of the refurbished maternity annex at Nkhanga Rural Health Centre in Lundazi. PICTURE: THOMAS NSAMA

AFTER almost losing her 19-year-old daughter because of heavy bleeding two years ago, Blessings Phiri has vowed never to allow traditional birth attendants to deliver her grandchildren at home.She has made a decision to always seek professional help at health centres.
Ms Phiri, a widow of Chasefu constituency in Lundazi district, narrated that she delivered all her five children from home and wanted her children to do the same.
“Little did I realise that I was endangering my child`s life and that of my grandchild. I thank God that they both survived, we rushed my daughter to the health centre and she was treated,” she said. “My granddaughter is now two years old.”
The 2013/2014 Demographic Health Survey has some alarming rates on maternal mortality, which stands at 398 per 100,000 and neonatal at 24 per 1,000 live births.
The alarming mortality rates have put Government on its feet to ensure that the levels are reduced to less than 100 per 100,000 maternal deaths and 10 per 1000 neonatal live births by 2021.
To do this, Government has incorporated various stakeholders to ensure the safety of pregnant women from conception to birth.
Apart from international cooperating partners such as the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), Government is also working with local non-governmental organisations such as the Esther Lungu Foundation Trust, whose patron is the First Lady.
Mrs Lungu has since the formation of the organisation in 2015 been engaging in outreach programmes targeting the less privileged in an effort to uplift their living standards.
This year, the Ministry of Health collaborated with the First Lady to launch the Safe Motherhood Week, which started on May 14 to 18 under the theme “Universal access to sexual reproductive services leaving no one behind”.
Mrs Lungu, who has a passion for the less privileged in society, commemorated the event in the remotest parts of Lundazi which had, among other challenges included near impassable roads.
But that bothered the First Lady very little. She was just happy to meet the communities and interact with them.
“Childbearing should be the last thing to torment. Women, women should not be scared to get pregnant and give birth. It does not please anyone to see a mother lose a life while giving birth,” she said.
Mrs Lungu hoped that the commemoration of the national event in Lundazi will help in intensifying awareness campaigns as well as in the reduction of cases of maternal deaths, which were reported to be highest last year in Eastern Province.
“Apart from cultural beliefs, bad terrains have contributed highly to maternal deaths. Most health facilities in the valleys are hard to reach. It is worse in the rainy season when places get cut off for up to three months from the rest of the district,” she observed.
Mrs Lungu was however pleased that Government has embarked on a transformational agenda that aims to provide universal health coverage to every Zambian. She noted that the Ministry of Health has put in place strategies to reduce maternal deaths.
Some of the measures include strengthening collaboration and engagement among key stakeholders such as traditional leaders, the community, line ministries and other cooperating partners.
Others are improving referral systems to ensure maximum maternal and newborn survival by reducing referral delays, improving pre-referral care, providing motorised transport, communication and enhancing preparedness and feedback at receiving centres.
Communities have also formed safe motherhood action groups (SMAGs), Community health neighbourhood committees and family planning product distributors comprising of men and women who volunteer to save lives in communities.
“My gratitude goes to these vigilant and self-resilient frontline groups in the rural areas who truly ensure that no woman dies while giving a life,” Mrs Lungu said.
During her visit to Nkhanga Rural Health Centre, which is about 35 kilometres from the Lundazi central business district, Mrs Lungu donated K5,000 cash and various foods and medical equipment to the SMAG group in the area.
“I note with admiration how the SMAG are tirelessly working to monitor pregnant women and ensure that they deliver at health facilities,” she said.
The First Lady also commissioned a maternity annex at Nkhanga Rural Health Centre, which was recently refurbished by the Medical Women Association of Zambia (MWAZ) with support from the Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA) at a cost of K550,000.
Nkanga Health Centre nurse-in-charge Alibesi Phiri said the centre, has since 2012 not recorded any maternal deaths.
The centre has a catchment population of 13,623 and in 2017 it recorded 539 deliveries and 560 pregnancies.
Meanwhile at Mwase Zonal Health Centre, which is about 31 kilometres from the central business district, Mrs Lungu interacted with the SMAG and neighbourhood health committees who aired their grievances on the difficulties they are facing in reaching the communities.
Mrs Lungu donated K5,000 cash and encouraged them to venture into goat keeping, of which she pledged to be their main customer.
She donated other valuable goods to help them with mobility so as to allow them reach out to people even in the remotest parts of the district.
Mwase nurse-in-charge Ronald Ndoti said the centre has a catchment population of over 11,000 with 1,192 expected annually and 1,243 expected pregnancies annually.
Minister of Health Chitalu Chilufya said Government will ensure that more health personnel are deployed in the district to ensure quality health care.
“To further reduce maternal deaths, Government has decided that every pregnant woman should have eight antenatal visits until delivery,” Dr Chilufya said. “This is to identify risks quickly and respond.
“Government has also increased the number of times for expectant women to take ant-malaria drugs from six to eight times during pregnancy.”
The goal is the same; no woman should die while giving birth.

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