SHIKANDA KAWANGA, Lusaka
ABOUT 830 women die from pregnancy or childbirth- related complications globally every day, World Health Organisation 2016 statistics say. Of these deaths, 99 percent occur in developing countries and the prevalence is higher among women living in rural areas and poorer communities.
More than half of these deaths occur in sub-Saharan Africa and almost one-third occur in South Asia. More than half of maternal deaths occur in fragile and humanitarian settings.
The deaths of women and new-born babies could be avoided if there is skilled care before, during and after childbirth.
The target under Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) number three is to reduce the global maternal mortality ratio to less than 70 per 100, 000 births, with no country having a maternal mortality rate of more than twice the global average.
Zambia has joined the rest of the world in providing affirmative action towards achieving the SDG and the Global Strategy for Women’s, Children’s and Adolescents’ Health.
Most maternal deaths are preventable, as the health care solutions to prevent or manage complications are well known. Every woman needs access to antenatal care in pregnancy, skilled care during childbirth, and care and support in the weeks after childbirth. Without it, women become vulnerable to motherhood and avoidable deaths.
It is for this reason that the Japanese government has signed a K6.8 million grant with Zambia through Japanese Organisation for International Cooperation in Family Planning (JOICFP) to promote women’s health in three districts on the Copperbelt Province.
The three-year project will, under phase one, benefit women and children in Mpongwe, Masaiti and Lufwanyama districts.
This is in consideration that maternal and new-born health are closely linked.
Japanese Ambassador to Zambia Hidenobu Sobashima said the project will improve access to health services for women and children in three districts.
“This is the first 2018 project in Zambia that the Japanese government has embarked on. These grants were introduced in 2002 and so far, 28 projects have been implemented,” he said.
Mr Hidenobu said part of the funds will go towards the development of one-stop service facilities, which include a mothers’ shelter, youth centre, training of safe motherhood action groups, as well as peer educators.
“These funds will also cover the renovation of existing rural health centres and improve capacity of the health personnel,” he said.
Japan wants to see the project contributing to the achievement of universal health coverage in Zambia.
“We believe that for Zambia to continue achieving development in a sustainable manner, strengthening of the health sector is important,” he said.
Maternal mortality rate in Zambia stands at 398 per 100,000 live births (2013-14). This indicates a reduction of maternal deaths from 591 per 100,000 live births as recorded in 2007. Government has committed itself to reduce maternal mortality to 70 per 100,000 live births by 2030.
UNICEF data indicates that the major causes of maternal deaths in Zambia are home deliveries, poor care of pregnancy and limited access to health care in rural areas.
About 53 percent of mothers in Zambia, UNICEF says, give birth at home while 47 percent of births are attended by skilled health workers at health institutions.
JOICFP family planning director Amane Funabashi said there is need for more work to be done to curb maternal deaths.
JOICFP has been providing reproductive health services in Zambia in collaboration with Planned Parenthood Association of Zambia (PPAZ).
Ms Funabashi said the previous project successfully ended in December last year.
The project helped to strengthen linkages between the community and the clinics in as far as increasing access to maternal and child health information was concerned.
Mzaza Nthele, clinical care director in the Ministry of Health, commended the Japanese Government and called for more partnerships to improve maternal and neonatal health in other districts of the country.
Dr Nthele said the Seventh National Development Plan, which was launched last year and is in line with the Vision 2030, aims to make Zambia achieve universal health coverage.
He said to achieve universal health coverage, there is need to strengthen the primary healthcare system.
The clinician further said it is not possible for Government to achieve universal health coverage for Zambia without collaborating with key stakeholders.
Dr Nthele said in the previous years when similar projects were implemented, Zambia was able to improve access to health services in target communities.
Masaiti district health director Davis Mwewa, who spoke on behalf of the three districts, said the district administrations in Mpongwe, Masaiti and Lufwanyama will support the project and work closely with the Japanese government to ensure its success.
“We are grateful to the Japanese government for the continued support which is in line with the National Health Strategic Plan for 2017-2021,” he said.
Dr Mwewa said previous partnerships with the Japanese have yielded immeasurable results in the health sector and he hoped that this project would improve the quality of health care delivery.
He said major achievements include the construction of maternity wards and procurement of medical equipment at the three one-stop sites in Mpongwe and Masaiti districts.
“The investment by the people of Japan has improved the quality of health service delivery. We are now experiencing an increase in the number of facility deliveries and post-natal care attendees,” he said.
Dr Mwewa said this is a clear demonstration of positive behaviour change that may be attributed to community participation and engagement through the safe motherhood action groups.
SHIKANDA KAWANGA, Lusaka