By Fortunate Muzarabani
Women in Bulawayo and Matabeleland South provinces have called for mobile family planning clinics to serve communities during the COVID-19 lockdown as they are unable to seek these services due to limited movement.
Police manning roadblocks are only allowing people with exemption letters and members of the essential services to access the central business district and to move to other suburbs in towns, while community leaders are enforcing lockdown regulations in rural areas.
Women who spoke to CITE said they were turned away at roadblocks after disclosing that they were on their way to look for family birth control medication after police dismissed their reasons for movement as non-essential and not emergencies.
Some women said they are staying at home as a result of the fear, shame and embarrassment of discussing their sexual reproductive health issues with non-health-staff people, but feared the hostile reality of unplanned pregnancy.
Mrs Nonyamezelo Masuku from Hovi village under Chief Nyangazonke in Kezi, Matobo District said women in her community walk for over 30 km to get to the nearest clinic under normal circumstances but could no longer walk that far as they were limited to movement only within a five kilometer radius to their homes.
“The clinics are very far. We walk for over 25 km but some in the homesteads behind the Hovi River Mountains have to travel 40 km to go to the clinic. But it’s difficult when there is a lock down because the village heads and Chiefs want us to follow the rules of the lockdown and only stay at home. When you do not look sick and say you want birth control pills it is as if you are not serious about life and are only concerned about sex. It will be better if family planning people came to our communities and gave us the pills we desperately need,” she said.
Another woman from Bulawayo’s Magwegwe suburb, Ms Trudy Moyo said she was on the pill but had only three days’ supply left and was worried that she may not be able to get more supplies.
“I am fast running out and my worry is that I may not be able to get more pills soon enough. I tried going to town with a Zupco bus but we were told to disembark and go back home by police officers at a roadblock along Luveve road,” she said.
The parliamentary portfolio committee on health chairperson Dr Ruth Labode in an interview with CITE yesterday said mobile clinics must be dispatched as a matter of urgency in communities to avert a surge of cases of unplanned pregnancy and a baby boom.
She said mobile clinics were necessary as women feared going to clinics and hospitals to seek sexual reproductive health services as they received hostile treatment from security details.
Dr Labode said the prevailing situation of women being deprived of sexual reproductive health services will likely increase the numbers of women seeking unsafe illegal abortion services.
“To move from Mpopoma to town, you need permission from the police and they will most likely not allow you to go to access that service. You are not on injection, you have no pills but in the meantime you are having sex. You then fall pregnant, you are probably already struggling to feed the children you already have. Then your options are limited. Borders are closed you can’t get to South Africa for a safe abortion. Their borders are locked too. Mobile family planning clinics are therefore needed because these sexual reproductive health services are a human right. You will not deny your husband conjugal rights because you have run out of birth control. This takes away so much of the gains earned in the health sector,” said Dr Labode.
“In rural areas, women are walking vey long distances to seek health services. During this time, mobile clinics are an essential services because I foresee a baby boom. I foresee many people having unwanted pregnancies and that is risky because high numbers of unwanted pregnancies will translate to high numbers of maternal deaths in the country.”
Zimbabwe has a problem of unplanned pregnancies and is currently ranked fifth in Africa in terms of maternal mortality rates.
The director of family health services in the ministry of health and child care, Dr Benard Madzima recently said nearly all abortions in the country are clandestine with 40 percent of them ending in complications leading to death.
There is fear that with lack of family planning services during the lockdown, numbers of unplanned pregnancies and abortions may soar, putting women in more vulnerable situations.