Amnesty International Zimbabwe has called on the government to address health-related challenges within the country’s institutions which exposes women to childbirth-related injuries, such as obstetric fistula, which has been attributed to the high maternal mortality rate
Launching a report named “”I Never Thought I Could Get Healed from This” last week, Amnesty International revealed that pregnant women and girls abscond from seeking help at health institutions due to the poor state of hospitals and clinics, which in turn, results in high levels of unsafe childbirth practices.
“Pregnant women and girls are at risk of life-changing childbirth-related injuries, including obstetric fistula, as many shun public healthcare facilities in favor of home-based deliveries due to inadequate health infrastructure, cultural practices, and high hospital costs,” the report said.
Although repair of the obstetric fistula was established as a public health intervention in 2015, research has shown that access to maternal healthcare which could prevent obstetric fistula as well as treatment for obstetric fistula has remained limited for many women and girls in Zimbabwe.
Amnesty International alleged that the government of Zimbabwe has failed to uphold sexual and reproductive health rights and the rights to equality and privacy and to be free from torture and other ill-treatment of women and girls.
“Zimbabwean authorities must urgently address the root causes of obstetric fistula – giving birth should not come with health risks that could easily be prevented,” the report added.
In Zimbabwe, one-quarter of women give birth without skilled assistance, while poverty, unprofessional medical personnel only exacerbate their vulnerability to obstetric fistula, according to the report.
The report also revealed that about 50,000 to 100,000 cases of obstetric fistula are recorded globally every year, with the highest rate coming from low-income countries, particularly in Africa and Asia.
In Zimbabwe, the actual rate of obstetric fistula is not known but a 2019 survey found that the country’s maternal mortality rate is among the highest in the world, suggesting a devastating prevalence and incidence rate of maternal morbidities, such as obstetric fistula.
According to the World Health Organization, obstetric fistula can be averted by decreasing the number of early and unplanned pregnancies, ending harmful practices like child marriage, and ensuring access to quality emergency obstetric care, as the condition is curable with surgical success rates as high as 92%.