Rural women face barriers to accessing SRHR services

Julia Ndlela

Jesca Vengayi (37) lives in the rural areas in Shurugwi district, in the Midlands province of Zimbabwe. Jesca says women in the rural areas have poor access to Sexual and Reproductive Health (SRH) services and information, a situation that is leading to aggravation of sicknesses and preventable loss of lives.

Visual inspection with acetic acid and cervicography (VIAC)

“Clinics in rural areas have no qualified personnel and equipment to attend to the sexual and reproductive health needs of women. Most of the time patients are given wrong diagnosis of their conditions. This results in some conditions that can be easily treated to get worse to a point where treatment would be too costly or unavailable,” says Jesca.

Jesca says she has first-hand experience of the poor service at her rural clinic where she lost her mother-in-law to cervical cancer. She says the clinic had failed to detect the cancer early, although her mother-in-law had sort for treatment early.

“When my mother-in-law went to the clinic with pricking pain and lower abdominal pains, the nurses checked her and told her that she had a Sexually Transmitted Infection (STI). They gave her some medication for the STI and for some time, my mother-in-law took the medication hoping that the situation would improve. STIs attract stigma and women with STIs are considered to be loose. This forced my mother-in-law to keep quiet about her condition. She did not want people to know that she had an STI,” says Jesca.

Jesca says the situation was compounded by the fact that her father-in-law was not committed to supporting his wife by seeking medical help from private doctors.

“My father-in-law is not poor. He could afford to take her to other hospitals but I guess he did not consider it important. He is the sole breadwinner and has control over financial decisions. If he was the one who fell sick, I am sure he would have spared no cost in seeking medical help. This is the fate of most women in rural areas who have no source of income and who depend on their husbands for all their needs,” says Jesca.

Jesca reveals that after six months of taking the STI medication, her mother-in-law’s condition deteriorated and she started to have heavy flows with clots. She says they took her to the clinic again where they were told to go to Parirenyatwa hospital in Harare, a distance of about 320 kilometres from their home.

“When we got to Parirenyatwa, some tests were done and we were shocked to be told that she did not have any STI but that she had cervical cancer. We were told that we should have come earlier before the condition had reached the stage where it now was. The doctors proposed to carry out an operation to remove the uterus,” says Jesca.

Jesca says the proposal to remove the uterus was quickly dismissed by her father-in-law who claimed that when he paid the bridal price for his wife, she was whole and he would need her to stay that way. She says there were some serious family squabbles over this issue and it took another two months until her father-in-law finally agreed to the operation.

“When my father-in-law finally agreed to the operation, the situation had further deteriorated. The cancer had spread to other parts of the body. Shortly after that my mother-in-law passed on,” says Jesca.

Jesca feels that there is need to support women in rural so that they are financially independent so that they can afford medical care without having to go through their husbands.

“In rural areas in Zimbabwe many women are struggling to gain access to health services like Visual Inspection with Acetic Acid and Cervicography (VIAC) and SRHR. While some are still not educated about their Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights,” says Jesca.

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