Zimbabwe: Statement on women's right to maternal health care

On the occasion of International Women's Day, 8 March, the Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights issued a statement focusing on the lack of access of women in Zimbabwe to much-needed and life-saving maternal health care. The full-text of the statement can be found below.

Statement on International Women's Day - Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights

Harare, 8 March 2010

In marking International Women's Day 2010, the Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights (ZADHR) calls attention to women's right to health, and maternal health in Zimbabwe in particular. Women in Zimbabwe are still a long way from realising their right to health with maternal mortality at an unacceptable level of 725 per 100,000. Most of these deaths are preventable. User fees, a known factor preventing access to maternal health care, continue to be charged. Women are not only being charged for maternal health care services, but are charged more for complications and are at times threatened with being detained for non-payment of unaffordable fees. User fees also exclude mothers from services which provide those who are HIV positive with antiretroviral therapy to prevent them transmitting HIV to their infants. Exemptions from user fees for pregnant women must be implemented if progress in improving accessibility is to be made.

Skills for maternal health continue to be short within the health workforce. With an estimated 50% of pregnant women in rural areas delivering their babies at home and more than a third of them (40%) without a skilled birth attendant (UNCIEF, Multiple Indicator Monitoring Survey (MIMS) Zimbabwe 2009), access to services and to skilled health workers remains a great challenge. Every Zimbabwean woman should have access to reproductive and maternal health care.

On Women's Day, ZADHR urges the government to continue to prioritise maternal and newborn health as efforts to strengthening Zimbabwe's health system continue by:

- exploring mechanisms to ensure enforcement of exemption from user fees for pregnant women;

- increase access of eligible pregnant women to effective antiretroviral therapy to prevent paediatric AIDS;

- scaling up rehabilitation or establishment of waiting mother's shelters at rural health centres;

- and committing to scaling up skills of health workers - midwives and clinical officers - to provide reproductive and maternal health care services at the primary care level.