Poverty hinders women from accessing care during pregnancy

By Melissa Chekwa

Jubilant Chifamba (19) is three months pregnant and has never been able to see a gynaecologist or to register her pregnancy for pre-natal care at the local clinic. Jubilant says she has no stable source of income and has no idea how she will take care of herself and her baby.

“I am still looking for money to do all these things including preparation, registering and seeing a gynaecologist. It is really hard for me to get money because my source of income is not sufficient and business is low everywhere,” says Jubilant.

Jubilant is aware that she has to attend pre-natal care but the cost involved is a deterrent. The covid-19 pandemic has resulted in the upsurge in the number of teen pregnancies. Most of these pregnancies are not planned and many young pregnant girls struggle to get money to support themselves. This is Jubilant’s first pregnancy and like many other pregnant girls, she has no one to support her.

The cost of registering and attending pre-natal care at council clinics is US$20 or ZWL$1800. There are also related costs such as transport and refreshments since expecting mothers may spend a long time at the clinic. At private clinics the cost of pre-natal care is between US$300 and US$350. This caters for check-ups, blood tests, prenatal classes, delivery and post-natal visits. The service at private clinics is far much better than the service received at local council clinics.

Many teenage mums have to rely on the support of their families. However, the economic challenges in the country has forced parents to prioritise basic items such as food, electricity and water. Spending money on pregnancy is regarded a luxury.

Abstaining from medical care may have serious ramifications on both the mother and the baby. Doctor Robert Nyajena is a Gynaecologist at a private clinic. He says it is important for all expecting mothers to have pre-natal, antenatal and post-natal care. Dr. Nyajena clarifies the phases women pass through and says that pre-natal is before pregnancy, antenatal is before birth and post-natal is after giving birth.

“It is best to have medical attention so that if there are any issues that need to be addressed, they are attended to especially for women with chronic problems. I have often observed that many women only seek medical attention a few days before giving birth as a way of reducing costs,” says Dr. Nyajena.

Dr. Nyajena advises that it may seem useless or costly but seeing a gynaecologist is important for pregnant women. He says it is not money wasting but is something that reduces risks of complications that may come up. He says this is even more crucial for first time pregnancies.

“Pregnancy could be classified into high and low risk. The low risk can be managed by health professionals at local clinics. But as the risk increases, there is need for specialist attention for best outcomes and management. Risk cases involve women with diabetes, hypertension or cases of poor growth in pregnancy and other challenges,” says Dr. Nyajena.

Dr. Nyajena advises families to plan and prioritise their pre-natal, antenatal, and post-natal health. However, financial challenges are a barrier to medial help. Women like Jubilant will continue to go through their pregnancies without any help.

“I wish the government invests more resources into the care and support for pregnant women. The covid-19 pandemic has eroded incomes and I cannot afford to get the help I need.

Creative Centre for Communication and Development, Zimbabwe