Pregnant women are being forced to bribe health care workers to help them deliver their babies safely in Zimbabwe, where the health care sector already had a weak infrastructure before the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the Guardian.
Two women, Aurage Katume and Melody Mapani, are suing Harare city authorities and say they experienced corruption and negligence when delivering their babies. They're demanding that 42 clinics reopen to better support pregnant mothers.
When Katume went into labor, she was turned away from her local clinic. After making it to another clinic farther away, the health care workers refused to give her medical attention, according to court documents obtained by the Guardian.
Katume said that once she arrived at the clinic, one of the midwives asked, “What did you bring us?”
She and her mother realized they wanted money and gave one of the nurses $5. After they paid the women, Katume was taken to a bed in the delivery room.
Mapani, however, was unable to get anyone to help her when she went into labor and lost her baby. She said she went from clinic to clinic looking for help before she had a stillbirth, according to the court documents.
The women’s lawyers are now accusing the midwives of corruption and claim that they give priority to women who can pay in US dollars.
“Lives have been lost, especially of babies during the birth, some dying before birth owing to delayed or non-attendance by healthcare workers at these clinics,” the lawyers said in the court documents.
Prior to the lockdowns to limit the transmission of COVID-19, Zimbabwe was already battling high maternal mortality rates.
Amnesty International reported that the lockdowns are making it harder for pregnant women in Zimbabwe to obtain medical help and for new mothers to look after their babies.
Women are facing travel restrictions and medical shortages, and are unable to contact the women they rely on for postpartum care. In Zimbabwe, the support of older women during the first months of a child’s life is critical.
The pandemic has also pushed more women into poverty, which makes it even harder for them to care for themselves and their families.
Pregnant women may not be able to afford the cost of transportation to health facilities that are often far away. If midwives continue to ask for bribes from expecting mothers, the poorest women who are unable to pay will not be able to get the treatment they need.
Mapani and Katume also said women are forced to wait outside clinics in long lines while they are in labor. There are reports that some women have fainted while waiting and that social distancing in the lines is impossible.
Faced with these challenges, more women are turning to home deliveries where unskilled midwives deliver their babies. In some cases, women will have no assistance from anyone at all.
Since the majority of these deaths are preventable, local NGOs are joining Mapani and Katume to call on the government and local authorities to prioritize maternal health.