Zimbabwe judge orders facilities reopened for pregnant women

HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) — A Zimbabwean judge on Wednesday ordered authorities in the capital, Harare, to reopen health facilities for pregnant women that were closed due to a strike by workers demanding better pay and personal protective equipment.

The closures resulted in pregnant women losing babies or resorting to unsafe deliveries, argued lawyers for two women who brought the case.

Zimbabwe’s health sector has been deteriorating for years, and the arrival of the coronavirus has further burdened a system hurt by drug shortages, collapsing infrastructure and frequent strikes by nurses and doctors.

The lawyers argued that pregnant women were some of the worst affected by the closures of health facilities in Harare.

High Court Judge Edith Mushore ordered the city council to ensure that “pregnant women receive emergency medical service” and open its 42 clinics to pregnant women by Oct. 14.

Melody Mapani, one of the women who brought the case, said in her court application that she lost her baby after being sent from one clinic to another in July.

The other woman, Aurage Katumbe, was turned away at the clinic where she was registered to give birth. She hired a taxi to another clinic and gave birth after “she was extorted by midwives in order to get services,” the court papers said.

Crowding and long lines at the few open clinics has resulted in violations of COVID-19 preventive measures such as social distancing, while “numerous residents” are turned away without receiving help.

Some women give birth “in the queue,” the women’s lawyers said.

The once prosperous southern African country’s public health sector, like much of the economy, is reeling under the weight of more than 700% inflation, infrastructure collapse and shortages of basic items such as drugs.

Pregnant women are increasingly resorting to unsafe home deliveries, or filthy and illegal backyard “surgeries” that have opened in poor suburbs, often with fatal consequences, doctors and public health groups say.

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