In Zambia maternal, newborn and child health (MNCH) continues to be a major challenge. It is estimated that eight women die every day due to pregnancy and childbirth complications in the country.
Zambia needs to significantly reduce the maternal mortality rate if the country is to attain the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) No. 5, which is the improvement of maternal health by 2015.
In this context Alliance Zambia is working hard to improve maternal health in the country.
Working with the Government
In February 2012 Alliance Zambia submitted a Memorandum on Maternal Health in Zambia to the Parliamentary Committee on Health, Community Development and Social Services. This highlighted the factors contributing to maternal mortality and made recommendations to the government. A lack of knowledge of how to reduce the risks related to maternal mortality was one of the key issues brought out.
Another was the stigma and discrimination faced by women living with HIV from their communities and some health workers. Many women living with HIV are afraid to get pregnant because there is an unfounded assumption in the community that their baby will automatically be born with HIV and die. In some settings the attitude of health care workers stigmatizes women living with HIV and unsurprisingly, women who receive poor treatment in health care centres are reluctant to seek care during pregnancy and child birth.
A struggling health system
Alliance Zambia identified a number of key issues within the Zambian health system which are having an impact on maternal mortality rates. The health system struggles with a shortage of health care workers and there is an urgent need for skilled midwives.
The lack of integrated reproductive, maternal and HIV services in Zambia is another key issue. In addition there is a shortage of essential equipment and drugs, and many health facilities are poorly maintained.
Many women give birth at home, unable to access services and medication to prevent HIV transmission.
A call for increased funding
Alliance Zambia recognized some of the positive steps that the government had already taken, including its development of a prevention of mother to child transmission (PMTCT) protocol, promotion of family planning, and membership of the Campaign on Accelerated Reduction of Maternal Mortality in Africa (CARMMA).
However they also recommended that it increases funding for MNCH in the national budget and review existing policies to ensure that it explicitly addresses the needs of pregnant women living with HIV.
Further, Alliance Zambia recommended that government policies and financing for HIV and maternal health should reflect the vital role that community based organisations play in increasing community knowledge on health and strengthening referral systems.
Other recommendations included:
- financially prioritising maternal health in the current National HIV/AIDS Strategic Framework
- providing training to healthcare workers so that they understand the health needs of pregnant women living with HIV
- including community health workers and trained traditional birth attendants in the nationwide task-shifting process so that they are better equipped and supported to meet the needs of communities and can help strengthen the health system
- improve the road transport network which is another barrier preventing women from accessing essential maternal health care
Eight women die every day due to pregnancy and childbirth complications in Zambia