DORIS KASOTE, Choma
THE United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) in collaboration with Government and other stakeholders have been working towards ensuring no woman dies when giving birth.
The week of May 25 to 31 was a Safe Motherhood Week. Various activities took place to commemorate this important week.
Workshops were conducted where traditional leaders were participants as they are the link with their various communities. The importance of traditional leaders in such an important undertaking cannot be over emphasised.
These are the leaders who have daily interactions with their communities. From the knowledge obtained, the traditional leaders could then share the information with their communities on what Safe Motherhood entails.
The activities which were in Choma saw traditional leaders in Southern Province converge in the provincial capital to deliberate on their take on Safe Motherhood.
This yearâ€™s theme was, â€œWomanâ€™s dignity begins when Fistula endsâ€.
Besides the traditional leaders, some community members have been identified to also encourage women to deliver at health centres as opposed to doing so at home.
Safe Motherhood Action Group representative Regina Kolala said the group has been trained to advocate for maternal health issues and discourage women from delivering at home.
The group also encourages women to access family planning methods at health centres.
First Lady Esther Lungu, who is passionate about issues relating to women, noted some of the contributing factors to the high number of deaths during pregnancy and child birth which included the delay in decision-making at community and household levels.
This is where a woman will delay to access health services because the head of household or an elder in the family has to make a decision for her to go to a health facility.
She also bemoaned the delay in accessing health facilities where the woman can find help. This is as a result of the long distance to the health facility, poor road network, and lack of transport or money to pay for transport.
Mrs Lungu is also concerned about the delay in receiving care at the health facility, which is as a result of inadequate qualified and skilled health workers, inadequate medical equipment and supplies, inadequate health infrastructure and delayed referrals.
Other factors that Mrs Lungu brought out include harmful traditional practices during pregnancy, labour and delivery, young maternal age at first pregnancy, early marriages, inadequate family planning services and information.
Lack of knowledge of danger signs and complications of pregnancy and delivery were also a source of concern.
The Zambia Demographic and Health Survey of 2007, reports that 591 women out of 100,000 lost their lives due to pregnancy and child birth complications.
This, however, has improved with implementation of interventions. The recent demographic and health survey shows that there has been a reduction in maternal mortality to 398 deaths per 100,000 live births.
â€œThis is still unacceptably high as no woman should die while giving life,â€ Mrs Lungu said.
Southern Province minister Nathaniel Mubukwanu noted that Government has put in place various programmes to improve womenâ€™s health in the communities.
The programmes include women empowerment programmes, community-based support programmes such as Safe Motherhood Action Groups and community-based distributors of contraceptives.
Other interventions are sensitisation of the community such as traditional leaders who are trained to be safe motherhood champions, obstetric fistula community awareness and fistula camps among others.
Government has continued rehabilitating and expanding existing infrastructure. It has also continued with construction works on 30 district hospitals countrywide, which is part of the larger programme to construct 650 health posts in various locations by the end of 2016.
Undoubtly, Government will not relent until it reduces maternal mortality.
UNFPA country representative Mary Otieno said significant strides have been made in improving sexual and reproductive health and the advancement of reproductive rights all over the world, including Zambia where maternal deaths have reduced by about 54 percent within the Millennium Development Goal period from 729 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2001 to 398 per 100,000 live births in 2014.
â€œToday more women than ever before are giving birth in health facilities with professional medical care, more women are using modern contraception to plan their pregnancies, and fewer women are dying from HIV-related causes,â€ she said.
Though this progress is commendable, far too many women are still dying while giving birth, and many more want to prevent unintended pregnancies but are unable to do so.
The UN system in Zambia is committed to sustaining its partnership with the government and national and international partners at all levels, to address challenges related to timely and adequate access to focused antenatal care, skilled birth attendance at delivery, and post-natal care for pregnant women especially to the most marginalised women and girls.
UNFPA in particular continues to support Government in conducting fistula camps across Zambia, which have currently resulted in surgical repairs of 1,846 fistula survivors between 2006 and 2014.
Furthermore, UNFPA supported the integration of fistula management prevention and treatment into the nursing in midwifery curriculum in 2010, and trained three expert fistula surgeons and a midwife in fistula clinical management.
The team oriented 150 health care providers in fistula clinical management and prevention.
UNFPA also notes that Zambia is on the Global Fistula Care Map and thus internationally recognised in its efforts and leadership in preventing and treating fistula.
It is for this reason that the UN agency calls upon all partners, political leadership and the community at large to invest and support Governmentâ€™s efforts in eliminating obstetric fistula in Zambia.
â€œLet us join forces to eliminate this national social injustice against our women and girls,â€ she said.
For sure no woman should die while giving a life.
DORIS KASOTE, Choma