Editor's Comment

Let’s help our shy mothers

THE Chitimukulu of the Bemba people says women in rural areas are choosing to give birth at home because they are too embarrassed to be attended to by young midwives.
The Chitimukulu told Minister of Health Dr Chitalu Chilufya: “Our pregnant women are delivering from their homes because tabalefwaya ukubatambila (they do not want anyone to see their nakedness). You find very young midwives in the clinics in rural areas and it is not right for them to be seeing the nakedness of our mothers.”
Now, the chief’s comment can easily be laughed off or passed over as a frivolous remark made by a chief, but really it should be treated with seriousness.
The chief may have raised a red flag where the high maternal and infant mortality in rural areas is concerned.
For many years, Zambia has been grappling with high maternal mortality, which is even higher in rural parts of the country.
In 2000, Zambia was losing about 530 women per 100,000 live births a very high and unacceptable figure by the World Health Organisation standards.
However, with greater and deliberate efforts, maternal mortality now stands at 213 per 100,000 live births.
We must continue on this trajectory to bring this figure down to zero if possible.
Therefore, anything that impedes or appears to slow progress in this regard must be taken care of immediately.
Why we think this matter deserves consideration is the fact that one of the factors blamed for the high maternal and infant mortality in the country has been the fact that many women, especially those in rural areas, still deliver at home.
Of course for some, the reason is lack of access to a health facility, but for others, it may be because of the reason given by the Chitimukulu.
And some might think that the rural women refusing to be attended by young midwives are being too traditional or even backward in their reasoning, but there is a background to this.
Our great grandmothers delivered their babies at home, assisted by older aunts and grandmothers, who became experts at delivering babies.
Of course times have changed, but not everyone has changed with time, and some women still consider it a taboo to undress before someone younger, that that someone younger is there to help them notwithstanding. It is even worse when that young ‘expert’ is a man.
And this problem is not only among rural women, but even some in urban areas will not willingly expose their nakedness before a young nurse or doctor.
We must not crucify those who choose tradition over modernity by denying them their right to healthcare.
But we must appreciate the conflict that exists between culture, tradition and modernity, and that these will not always agree.
We must, therefore, strive to find middle ground for the good of the greater community.
By allowing women to deliver their babies at home because they cannot expose their nakedness before a young midwife, we are exposing them to the greater risks associated with unsafe child delivery, including death.
We recommend that more efforts be made in training traditional birth attendants to work alongside conventional midwives so as to reduce this discomfort by mothers in these areas.
If not dealt with properly, what seems like a small problem might reverse the gains made in reducing maternal and infant mortality.
We must not allow this to happen.

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