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Pregnant woman takes lead in fight for maternal health

Wednesday, August 30, 2017 - 15:27

She cannot just sit and watch while others do the donkey work. She is not comfortable with being a bystander of change. Regardless of her condition, she works hard, molding bricks, fetching water, and digging pit and river sand for the construction of a clinic in her community. Doing this has become a lifestyle for an eight months pregnant woman as she fights for the accessibility of maternal health services in her area. Agatha Munaka (39) is carrying her 5th pregnancy. She is from Kanyimo Ward 4, Nyanga District, Manicaland Province, east of the country.

As she recalls a woman who almost lost her life while giving birth on her way to Elim Mission Hospital at Ruwangwe in Kanyimo Ward, the nearest health centre, she cannot rest until there is a clinic. Agatha also knows other women from her area who gave birth along the road while travelling on foot, in a wheel barrow or a scorch cart going to the nearest hospital which is 14 km away located outside her ward. Many women do not have access to maternal health services within their communities resulting in them experiencing complications during delivery or even death of the child leading to a high mortality rate recorded in the country each year. Out of every 100 000 women who give birth in Zimbabwe, 651 die while giving birth according to the Zimbabwe Demographic and Health Survey for 2015.

Narrating her story, Agatha told of the many challenges she personally faced when she was carrying her fourth pregnancy. As she waited for the date of her delivery at Elim Mission Hospital, he did not have anyone to help her fetch water and firewood, even someone to cook for her. She was lucky that she only waited for three days. Others stay at the hospital for a month before they deliver. Agatha stays with her children who are still school going ages. Her husband lives in Harare, where he works as a caretaker at a school but he has not meaningfully supported the family according to her.

Reminiscing on her experience in delivering her fourth child Agatha cannot stand watching other women suffer like she did. Her experiences inspire her and are enough motivation for her to bring about change with regards to women’s access to maternal health services. She said: This fifth pregnancy is my last. I am working to ensure there is a clinic to benefit those that matter to me who are my relatives, friends, the community at large, and specifically all those women who still want to give birth.

Agatha, a Rural Women Assembly (RWA) member, together with other RWA women, engaged their village head, the councilor and mobilized the community to push for the construction of the clinic in their area. The Nyanga Rural District Council (NRDC) has pegged the clinic just next to Kanyimo Primary School which is near Agatha’s home and construction of the clinic is at window level. The process is being spearheaded by a Clinic Development Committee set up by the community. The committee is constituted of four (4) men and three (3) women. The three women are RWA members.

 The RWA is a rural woman grouping supported by ActionAid and partners in empowering communities on various aspects of development with focus on women and girl emancipation. The clinic was the brain child of RWA STAR Circle meetings. STAR Circle is an ActionAid community development participatory methodology which stands for Societies Tackling AIDS through Rights. Through this initiative, women groups hold regular meetings in which they discuss rights based issues which affect them and plan on how they will influence change with regards to these problems. FACT Nyanga cascaded the STAR Circle methodology to its operational areas in Nyanga since 2012. The RWA members are some of the groups that have received the STAR Circle capacity building.  

Agatha is one of the members of the Kanyimo RWA group. Over and above Agatha’s contribution of physically providing labor, such as molding bricks for the construction of the clinic, she has made a monetary commitment of US$25-00 from her meagre earnings towards the purchase of cement for the construction of the clinic. Other households in the community and RWA members are also contributing financially towards the clinic. Agatha is a farmer and supplements her income from her hairdressing ventures, a skill she learnt from the RWA economic empowerment initiatives.

It was not easy walk to reach the agreement to have the clinic site located where it is as there were some conflicts between Kanyimo and Sanhani, the extreme end of Kanyimo Ward. People from Sanhani area also want the clinic to be in their own village. The conflict is arising as the ward ideally requires more than one clinic due to the distances travelled by the community members.

Agatha’s community does not have the resources for buying roofing material and are making an appeal to well wishers for assistance.