Giving birth in a safe environment assisted by a skilled health worker is still a luxury many Zambian women have to do without. And delivery at home can have deadly consequences.
By Brian Moonga, Lusaka
Although many rural areas in Zambia now have primary health care facilities, Sharon Kumwenda from Chongwe in the rural east of the capital Lusaka had to give birth to her first son in her village hut.
“It was one of the worst things I went through and I thought I was not going to make it, although it´s common for women of my age to give birth at home,” says the 21-year-old mother of one.
500 deaths per 100,000 live births
“Currently less than 50 per cent of deliveries are conducted by unskilled birth attendants, and complications can arise when you least expect it,” says Dr Maureen Chisembele, a gynaecologist working for the University Teaching Hospital in Lusaka.
Zambia is one of the countries in Africa where maternal health is in a pretty bad shape, although current trends indicate that maternal and infant health is improving. Zambia's Demographic and Health Survey of 2007 shows that between 2005 and 2007, maternal mortality had reduced from about 700 to around 500 deaths per 100,000 live births.
Great chance of complications
Although it is common for women in the rural and semi-urban areas of the country to deliver their babies at home, health experts warn that there is a great chance of complications during and after labour.
Kumwenda is aware of some of the possible dangers that might have occurred when she was giving birth, but she says the local health centre was too far away and she could hardly walk. Still, Kumwenda feels it’s safe to give birth at home as long as an experienced elder is assisting.
“I think that although it’s agonisingly painful and hard to give birth at home, it’s still fine, because our mothers also gave birth to us here in the village and not at the hospital. It depends who is helping you,” she says. About 25 per cent of women who give birth are assisted by relatives, according to the Zambia Demographic and Health Survey of 2007.
Several NGOs have stepped in to address maternal health problems and the challenges of women giving birth without the presence of skilled health workers. Mobilising Access to Maternal Health Services in Zambia (MaMaZ) is one of them.
MaMaZ is funded by the UK Department for International Development and has started projects in rural Zambia, which include motorcycle ambulances and community monitoring systems.
Instant medical care
Kumwenda says she hopes that the government and other key players will help pregnant women in rural areas gain access to maternal health care services.
“I know that when I give birth at the hospital, it’s also good for my baby, because they receive instant medical care and the necessary vaccinations. That wouldn’t be possible in the village,” she says.