Maternal Health during COVID19 in Zimbabwe Q&A: Geraldine Nyaku, National Coordinator of White Ribbon Alliance Zimbabwe

Jun 1, 2020 | Blog, News, Zimbabwe

By Munyaradzi Tsunga, White Ribbon Alliance Zimbabwe Communications Officer

Geraldine Nyaku is the National Coordinator of White Ribbon Alliance Zimbabwe. She is a women’s rights activist with extensive experience in advocacy, lobbying for children and women’s rights, conducting trainings on gender-based violence, women’s rights, and more. She has worked with diverse communities at grassroots level and with different government structures, from local authorities to ministries and policy makers, to advocate for the rights of women and children. Geraldine sat down with Rumbidzai Venge, the host of Capitalk 100.4FM’s radio channel in Harare, Zimbabwe to talk about maternal health in the throes of COVID19.

What challenges have pregnant women been facing in the COVID-19 era?

In response to COVID-19, the Government of Zimbabwe enacted regulations to affect a restriction on movement in an attempt to slow down the spread of COVID-19. This has brought a strain to pregnant women who need to move around to access health facilities. The police enforcing the ban have not been sympathetic to pregnant women, insisting the need for a clearance letter from the police sanctioning movement.

There has also been an increase in domestic violence cases, included in them pregnant women. Victims of such abuse have not been able to move away from their abusers due to, among other things, restriction on movement.

How has WRA Zimbabwe responded to some of the challenges faced by expectant mothers?

WRA Zimbabwe is working with the Ministry of Health and Child Care in disseminating information to the public, specifically pregnant women on COVID-19 related issues. We have campaigns #SaferTogether and Respectful Maternity Care (RMC) wherein we inform pregnant women on best practices in health delivery. There is an information gap existing particularly for pregnant women and new mothers on issues to do with COVID-19, and as WRA Zimbabwe we are closing that gap through these campaigns.

Could you explain what RMC is and why it is important?

[Respectful maternity care] RMC provides an avenue for all women to be attended to in a matter that maintains their dignity, privacy and confidentiality.  It ensures freedom from harm and mistreatment. Women need to be given support during labour, including the presence of companions.  Companions are essential in delivery as they help provide a secure environment for women.  It has been shown that presence of companions result in smoother delivery.

There are cases where expectant mothers have been asked not to enter a health facility when they come into labour, and are only allowed in when close to delivery, what is your comment?

Such cases show the importance of Respectful Maternity Care. RMC ensures that women are treated with dignity and are not exposed to harm. In such cases, RMC is evidently lacking. We have been successful in some public health care facilities and academic institutions in implementing RMC and the fact that we still have cases like these, shows the need to keep doing RMC work on our part. We would like RMC to be standard and uniform across the country so that health care providers are able to treat women with the dignity, respect and care they deserve. RMC also ensures mothers are aware of the rights inherent to them. Our trainings provide a platform for health care providers to be aware of what expected of them and they do their duties. In some cases, the providers are not aware of the obligations on their shoulders as they carry out their roles and responsibilities. It is through ignorance in some cases that you find mistreatment of mothers.

This mistreatment results in some women being reluctant to visit health facilities for fear of mistreatment as well as contraction of COVID-19.  It results in the increase of home births, which are not advisable for many reasons, among them the lack of a health care provider in case of complications. Cases such as these provide for us an opportunity to keep working and there are no guarantees of over-night success, it is a process.

Is there risk of passing on of COVID-19 from mother to child through breastfeeding?

In our campaign #SaferTogether, we provide information in this regard. There is no evidence of transmission of COVID-19 from mother to child through breast milk. Mothers are encouraged to breastfeed their children but should take all the general precautions for reducing the spread of the virus – washing hands thoroughly with soap and running water, washing of breast before breast feeding, covering mouth and nose with a face mask, disinfecting fomites, etc.

What measures should service providers as well as expecting mothers and mothers with newborn take to protect themselves and their children from COVID-19?

[Women] should practice the standard protocol of washing their hands thoroughly with soap and running water before handling the baby. The mother should further wear a mask and wash or clean her breast when breastfeeding to ensure the protection of the newborn. Anyone, in the household setup, must adhere to these protocols to protect the baby and themselves – washing hand thoroughly with soap and running water, maintaining social distancing, disinfecting frequently touched surfaces such as door handles and table tops, limiting movement outside the house to reduce risk of contracting from the external environment. It is also important for mothers and other members of the household to access information from credible sources on matters of health and COVID-19.

Women and newborn require quality maternity services, even when disasters strike. Health care providers need personal protective gear to ensure they carry out their roles effectively and efficiently with minimal risk. We urge decision makers to create an environment that ensures women and newborns continue to receive vital lifesaving interventions during these times of COVID-19 with dignity and care. WRA Zimbabwe remains committed to sharing credible information and lessons learnt through its vast network of care providers and partners. If you are passionate about maternity care and want to get involved, please contact Geraldine Nyaku at gnyaku@whiteribbonalliance.org.