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Decision on maternity fees late

The current bickering between the Harare City Council and government over the scrapping of maternity fees is emblematic of how bureaucratic inertia has become a major threat to the well-being of this country.

Deputy-President Joice Mujuru and Deputy Prime Minister DPM Khupe have been leading the government charge to have maternity fees scrapped. They have argued that this is feasible because government has been fundraising for that.

Harare mayor Muchadeyi Masunda on the other hand is adamant that scrapping the fees would be fatalistic as council requires money to run maternity facilities efficiently. He wants council to retain the fees because government, which is pushing for the plan, owes council US$40 million.

The squabbling over maternity fees has however negated the very good intentions of offering free medical services to expecting mothers. Women in Zimbabwe are dying in large numbers during childbirth largely because they cannot afford maternity fees. There is a shortage of experienced midwives in medical institutions which are poorly equipped to deal with emergencies.

In 1994, according to the Zimbabwe Demographic Health Survey, maternal mortality was 283 deaths per 100 000 live births and in 2005/6 it was estimated at 555 deaths per 100 000 live births. In 2010/11, it was estimated at 960 deaths per 100 000 live births.

Almost 10 women are dying every day in this country due to pregnancy-related complications. That is an unacceptably high figure which can easily be reversed with improved awareness and ante-natal care.

Offering free ante-natal services at municipal and state hospitals is a noble idea which however requires judicious mustering and administration of financial resources. It requires clearly-defined guidelines on how the process works to ensure that service is not compromised once it is offered for free.

The current wrangling between the government on one side and the city of Harare on the other, is not helpful. Instead of working towards building consensus on the best way to implement measures that would reverse the worsening trend in the care of expecting women, bureaucrats have elected to score political points.

This is misrule writ large.

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