By Paidamoyo Chipunza
A midwife in Harare has turned heroine in the middle of Mbare high-density suburb after assisting an estimated 100 pregnant women to deliver in just eight days following the strike by municipal nurses. While nurses downed tools demanding more pay, Ms Esther Zinyoro does not charge anything for her services.
Most expecting women from most parts of Harare got wind of Ms Zinyoro, popularly known as Mbuya Gwena, through the grapevine after finding doors to clinics they initially registered to deliver at, closed.
Mbuya Gwena, a member of St John’s Apostolic Church of the Whole World, is sometimes invited to assist women who get into labour at the entrance to Edith Opperman Maternity Clinic after failing to reach her apartment at Tagarira Flats on time.
Her flat is a stone’s throw from the polyclinic.
Inside her two-roomed apartment, women take turns to deliver on two tents spread on the floor in the lounge, with furniture piled against the walls to create space.
The same lounge is also used as a kitchen to prepare food for Mbuya Gwena’s family and her “clients”.
Those who would have delivered are transferred into her tiny bedroom together with their newborn babies where they must be picked by their relatives before end of day.
With only a razor blade and wool, Mbuya Gwena is handling an average of 13 deliveries per day.
Sadly, mothers who might need medical interventions to prevent transmission of HIV to their newborn babies are missing the opportunity.
“I have never assisted such huge numbers of women to deliver in my life. Yes, I sometimes assist women from my church should there be any need for assistance, but not as many as these ones,” said Mbuya Gwena.
She said it all started last week when a woman, who was already in labour, was referred to her apartment for assistance after finding Edith Opperman closed.
Since then, more women have been flocking to her house for assistance, some coming from as far as Glen View, Epworth and Budiriro.
Mbuya Gwena said her major challenge was that of space to house the increasing number of women seeking her services, hygiene supplies to curb possible infections, and food to feed her clients, most of whom are financially disadvantaged.
“Some even divulge their HIV status and ask me tough questions on where to go for prevention of mother-to-child transmission after delivery,” she said.
Some of the women interviewed urged the local authority as well as Government to solve the impasse with its employees, expressing how they suffered before finding Mbuya Gwena.
“I left home in Epworth this morning (Thursday) around 6am for Parirenyatwa Hospital, but I was turned away. I went to Harare (Central) Hospital where I was also turned away, referring me to Chitungwiza (Central) Hospital.
“So many questions immediately came into my mind, forcing me to shed tears. Will I be able to eventually deliver, will the baby be alive, will I also survive the pregnancy?” said Mrs Prisca Chikuku, who was waiting to deliver when The Herald arrived at Tagarira Flats.
She said a passer-by who saw her crying told her about Mbuya Gwena.
Mrs Veronica Masango, who had just given birth, applauded the work being done by Mbuya Gwena saying without her, most women would have lost their babies or even their lives.
Statistics from Harare City Council show that for the month of September alone, the number of babies born before arrival at health facilities went up by almost two fold to 209 compared to the same period last year.
The number is expected to rise for the month of October following the withdrawal of labour by most municipal nurses, forcing the city to operate with skeletal staff, resulting in the closure of some facilities.
Government recommends all midwives to refer all pregnant women for delivery at health facilities to avoid losing their lives should complications like excessive bleeding, obstructed labour or infections arise.
According to the latest Zimbabwe Demographic Health Survey, an estimated 614 women from every 100 000 who give birth die in the process, making it one of the highest in the world.
The country’s target is to reduce the number of women who die while giving birth by two thirds
Family health director in the Ministry of Health and Child Care Dr Bernard Madzima yesterday said while Zimbabwe recognised the role of traditional midwives, the country stands guided by World Health Organisation guidelines which do not recommend deliveries by traditional birth attendants.
He said pregnant women must still go to health facilities, at least those that are open or mission hospitals in case of complications.
“Women should still go to health facilities, the reason being that if there is a complication or a breech delivery, traditional birth attendants would not be able to assist them.
“So traditional birth attendants are only encouraged to give health education and refer pregnant women to hospitals,” said Dr Madzima. The Herald