Gender Focus with EMELDA MWITWA
A STORY last week of a Mkushi woman who was allegedly raped by a male nurse when she went for antenatal at Chitina Rural Health Centre has elicited different reactions.
Of great concern to me is the decision by worried husbands in this rural community of Central Province to stop their wives from attending antenatal clinics.
A councillor for Nkumbi ward, Lewis Mayuya, says men are skeptical about allowing their wives to attend antenatal at Chitina where a six-month pregnant woman was allegedly raped by nurse Nicomed Banda.
Reports further say the men aren’t comfortable with male medical officers attending to their wives for fear that they too could rape them. Other men have opted to take their wives to Nkumbi Rural Health Centre, about 17km from the Chitina health facility.
On the day in question, the 31-year-old woman had been accompanied by her husband to the health centre when she was allegedly raped while being examined by the suspect.
The woman did not scream during the act, saying the suspect had covered her mouth with his hands. After she was ‘raped’, she quietly left the clinic with her husband, without alerting him until later on their way home when she started vomiting and he also noticed that she was struggling to walk.
The nurse had reportedly pleaded with the victim not to tell her husband or anyone else about it because he would lose his job.
Obviously, the victim’s reaction to her rape leaves much to be desired. I don’t know if it’s fear or ignorance, my take is that she should have raised alarm, especially that there were many other people in the clinic such as health workers, patients, including her own husband.
Anyway, since this is a case that would be going to court, let me focus on the blow this case has caused to the community since some jealous husbands are now stopping their wives from attending antenatal at the clinic.
It’s sad because this is coming at a time when Government and other stakeholders are making frantic efforts to upscale antenatal attendance and childbirths attended by skilled healthcare providers.
Antenatal attendance in Zambia is not as good as desired, going by statistics that 53 percent child deliveries in Zambia take place in homes, according to UNICEF.
Only about 47 percent of births are attended by skilled health workers at health institutions.
UNICEF also cites home deliveries, poor care of pregnancy and limited access to healthcare in rural areas as being the major causes of maternal deaths in the country.
Maternal mortality stand at 398 per 100,000 live births (2013-14), according to data from the Ministry of Health. Although this signifies a reduction of maternal mortality in Zambia from 591 per 100,000 live births as recorded in 2007, 398 deaths out of 100,000 births is quite high. Government is among other things working at improving access to healthcare facilities, especially in rural areas where over 50 percent live within the recommended 5km radius to a health centre.
The situation is better in urban areas where 99 percent of households lie within the 5km radius to a health facility.
If everything goes according to plan, the government would like to bring down maternal deaths to 70 per 100,000 live births by 2030.
But antenatal attendance in the country is low even in urban areas where residents have better access to healthcare facilities.
There are women who opt not to go for antenatal check-up and when the time to give birth comes, they elect to do so from home. Many lives have been lost from home deliveries and failure by expectant mothers to attend antenatal clinics.
It’s somewhat a mindset problem which is common in both urban and rural areas.
The situation is worse in rural areas where women use long distance to the nearest health centres as an excuse for giving birth in homes.
Understandably so, accessing healthcare facilities is a daunting task in rural communities and some women end up giving birth on the way to the hospital.
In some villages, women who have been sensitised on the benefits of receiving maternity services from qualified healthcare providers opt to camp near the hospital or clinic when they are about to give birth.
The idea is to avoid the possibility of an expectant mothers failing to make it to the hospital on time when she is in labour.
It’s good that Government and non-governmental organisations have been educating people on the importance of pregnant women attending antenatal clinics and giving birth in healthcare facilities.
In fact, some rural health centres would occasionally carry out outreach programmes on safe motherhood in rural areas.
As a result, we have seen rural communities getting keen on matters of safe motherhood and husbands accompanying their wives for antenatal check-up.
Actually, bringing husbands on board the safe motherhood campaign increases compliance levels of pregnant women to maternity services in health centres.
Government clinics have been encouraging husbands to accompany their wives for antenatal, and as an incentive, women who are accompanied by their spouses are allowed to jump the queue.
The idea is to encourage other women to bring their husbands along.
The participation of men is good for the family because they benefit from health talks to do with family planning; how to take care of a pregnant woman; while other husbands are encouraged to test for HIV alongside their wives.
In my view, husbands should continue rallying with their wives in this campaign for safe motherhood because it is good for the family.
The alleged incident at Chitina Rural Health Centre, though unfortunate, is no reason for men to overreact and stop their wives from going for antenatal check-ups.
And opting for another health centre that is 17km away isn’t good either because eventually, mothers won’t be able to travel there.
It is equally wrong to say pregnant women in Chitina should not be attended by men because not all male medical officers lack sexual discipline.
Perhaps the Chitina incident should just make women more alert against randy health workers – believe you me, they do exist. In my view, the Chitina incident could have been avoided if the alleged victim was on her guard.
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Gender Focus with EMELDA MWITWA