World, Health, Africa

Backyard midwives become Zimbabwe’s medical messiahs

Rising maternity fees in Zimbabwe trigger rise of backyard midwives, endangering pregnant mothers’ lives

Jeffrey Moyo  | 30.10.2021 - Update : 30.10.2021
Backyard midwives become Zimbabwe’s medical messiahs

HARARE, Zimbabwe

Exactly nine days after the dawn of 2020, 23-year-old Chipo Mungani gave birth to her first child, a bouncing baby boy, thanks to the aid of a backyard midwife in Zimbabwe’s capital Harare.

Earlier on, Mungani had failed to find help across the public health care centers in Harare.

To Mungani, 72-year-old Mbuya Goto, the midwife who came to her rescue, also known as Esther Ganyani, stands out as her messiah -- her hero, in fact.

“Nurses at local council clinics had turned me away when I had sought help from them. The same happened at public hospitals until someone referred me to Mbuya Goto, who helped me deliver my baby,” Mungani told Anadolu Agency.

She also said owing to her swollen left leg during the period of her pregnancy, in clinics, nurses expressed fears about possible medical complications on her and as a result refused to attend to her, choosing rather refer her to private medical centers.

With public health care facilities now largely dysfunctional in Zimbabwe, backyard midwives like Goto have turned into saviors for many struggling expecting mothers like Mungani.

Goto operates at her home, serving scores of pregnant mothers on a daily basis thanks to Zimbabwe’s defunct health care system.

“My house as it stands now has become a maternity home where I help expecting mothers give birth, of course, free of charge,” Goto told Anadolu Agency.

Goto lives in Mbare Township, Harare’s oldest high-density suburb.

Across Zimbabwe, now common to find are backyard makeshift clinics that have become alternative medical citadels for the poor country's expecting mothers who cannot afford medical help at private health care centers.

Backyard midwives like Goto, who are untrained and informal nurses helping expecting mothers to deliver, are thriving at a time when Zimbabwe's medical doctors are part of the government’s poorly paid workforce.

Doctors have now and then demanded better wages, but their calls have often fallen on deaf ears as authorities take little or no action to address their concerns.

With doctors rather demotivated with their wages here, backyard midwives like Goto have stolen the show, springing to the rescue of expecting mothers.

“I get many women bringing gifts in cash or kind as they appreciate my services to them and I don’t charge for my services because I feel I have a calling to my job,” said Goto.

So many backyard midwives like Goto here merely volunteer their services.

But medical experts have warned that expecting mothers stand out exposed to diseases at the hands of backyard midwives.

“After giving birth, a mother loses blood and may develop post-partum hemorrhage, and those backyard midwives cannot solve that. We are very much against those backyard deliveries,” Tedious Chisango, secretary-general of the Zimbabwe Urban and Rural Council Nurses Workers’ Union, told Anadolu Agency.

Even as health experts denounce backyard midwives like Goto, she has against all odds helped deliver over 100 babies in her makeshift center since last year, babies who are all alive to this day.

Daily, Goto said she helps about 13 expecting mothers deliver.

But as these midwives step in with free aid for expecting mothers amid the dysfunctional public health care system here, according to the Zimbabwe Demographic Health Survey, the estimated maternal mortality ratio for the country is 651 deaths per 100,000 live births.

Expensive to give birth

Rubbing salt to wounds already sustained by the country’s medical field, earlier last year, the Zimbabwean government reintroduced maternity fees.

As such, as of now, cesarean births in the southern African nation cost 2,500 Zimbabwean dollars (US$30) at public health care centers like Parirenyatwa Hospital, ZWD1,500 (US$20) at provincial hospitals, and ZWD1,000 (US$15) at district hospitals, a situation that has impelled backyard midwives to come to the rescue of the poor expecting mothers here.

However, anxious Zimbabweans like Dany Dhodho, a Harare resident, said “works by backyard midwives only highlight the collapse of a health sector in this country once deemed to be the best in Africa.”

Even the Zimbabwean government’s health officers, like Charity Bhamule, have expressed disgust over the thriving backyard maternity services.

“In makeshift backyard clinics run by backyard midwives, there is utterly no professionalism and everything is done haphazardly, endangering delivering mothers,” Bhamule told Anadolu Agency.

In fact, she said, “there are certain processes that need to happen during labor and after labor both to the mother and to the child, which to backyard midwives are never done, and these include helping to prevent HIV/AIDS transmission from mother to child.”

Yet, midwives see nothing wrong with what they are doing in backyard maternities.

“I’m just helping, that’s all. Not for any payment in return,” said Goto.

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