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Fear and Uncertainty for Pregnant Women in Zimbabwe Amid the COVID-19 Crisis

By Geraldine Nyaku, White Ribbon Alliance Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe has been on lockdown since March 30, with police enforcement limiting access in cities. For women seeking maternity care, the lockdown has created challenges to receiving care. Mary*, a 28-year-old woman in her third trimester said, “When my husband and I were driving to the hospital in March, soon after the national lock down, we were stopped by armed forces. [They asked us] to produce proof that we were going to the hospital, but the hospital cards are at the Gynaecologist’s surgery. We were told that if we did not have proof, we needed to go to the nearest police station to get a permit. On that day I was experiencing pains on my back and lower abdomen, and my blood pressure had gone up. As tears burned on my eyes, we were then assisted by a female police officer who said, ‘just let them pass’.”

When Mary reached the hospital, there were limited staff available, causing a long wait time to be seen. While waiting, she wondered if the staff had come into contact with those with the virus and been tested for COVID-19?

She also worries about accessing proper care and hopes for no complications since pharmacies have limited stock. The effects of COVID19 have brought many uncertainties for Mary.

“The joy that we had has been replaced by fear of the unknown. I am not able to do my regular check-ups as the gynaecologist closed due to this pandemic. The last time I went for a scan before the lockdown, the baby was a breech. Now I do not know if everything is ok or not, I am only comforted by the kicks that the baby makes, and I am now always on prayer that we both survive,” she shared.

Mary’s concern for her baby’s health is further complicated by financial uncertainty: “When they announced the first lockdown, I had not bought all the baby preparation stuff, now most shops are closed, prices have gone up, but salaries were not increased. [I work] at an organisation that is contract based on funding, I am not sure if they will renew the contract,” She also worries that, being so far along in her pregnancy, she may not get the normal paid maternity leave.

As she nears the end of her pregnancy, Mary is concerned about hospital restrictions on birth companions, put in place to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19. She shared, “The last time I went to the hospital, they told me that only one person can be allowed to come and visit. It is cultural that when giving birth one has to be with their parents, sadly I cannot travel because of the restrictions imposed by the laws of the country, neither can my parents come to share the joy of my first-born child. I know absolutely nothing except for the things I read on google on taking care of a child, now though continue to haunt me every day and night.”

Connecting women, their families and health workers to navigate maternity care during the COVID-19 crisis will help everyone stay safer, together. The Global Respectful Maternity Care Council, convened by White Ribbon Alliance, launched the Safer Together campaign to help women, health workers and governments navigate this unprecedented crisis.

*name changed to protect privacy

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