The country’s maternal mortality ratio is currently pegged at 725 deaths per every 100 000 live births. In simple terms, eight women die everyday while giving birth translating to about 2 thousand 500 deaths per year.
In an attempt to reduce the number of such deaths, government intervened by scrapping maternity fees to allow all pregnant women to access health care. But how far has the move gone in addressing the problem?
After years of research, it was realised that many pregnant mothers especially in rural areas are failing to access maternal health care due to prohibitive user fees.
Government with assistance from some cooperating partners agreed to pool resources under the Health Transition Fund.
By last month at least sixty million dollars had been raised. Government then sent out circulars to all state-run institutions advising them of the scrapping of maternity user fees with effect from 1 July 2012.
Following the development, many expecting mothers abandoned polyclinics opting to go and deliver at referral centres such as Harare Hospital and Parirenyatwa. This has led to overcrowding in the available maternity wards.
A visit to the hospital showed that mothers who had just delivered are staying in a small room, while newly born babies share a single bed, as they wait to be admitted in proper wards.
A health institution cannot turn away a woman in labour, but how are such facilities expected to cope when there is an influx of patients.
Some mothers who had just delivered and their partners expressed mixed feelings over the issue with some supporting the idea to abolish user fees, while others said it is not sustainable.
Eight percent of total government expenditure is going towards the health sector. When the idea to abolish maternity user fees was adopted, the ministry of finance pledged to avail ten million dollars. But so far only six million dollars has been availed.
For the programme to succeed, government must put in more money, but will a government which has failed to sustain such programmes as beam and the student cadetship be able to wholly fund maternity user fees.
The advantages of scrapping maternity user fees are clear. Is Zimbabwe ready for such a move? Can such a critical sector rely on donor funding? What will happen when such funds dry up?
In countries such as South Africa, the system works efficiently leading many to query the attitude of Zimbabwean medical personnel who are reportedly abusing people simply because they have not paid.