Speaking Up

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Tue Aug 16, 2011

Winstone Zulu Speaks Up: Dare to Imagine

This is the final post made by our friend and colleague Winstone Zulu, who passed away October 12, 2011. Our remembrance of Winstone can be read here.

By Winstone Zulu

Imagine if every two minutes a woman died in New York City. Imagine if the cause of death was not an epidemic of any disease. Imagine if the cause of these deaths was not even a disease. Imagine if the cause was entirely preventable. Can you imagine the mayor and governor of New York going about their everyday life as if nothing was happening to fellow residents?

Hard to imagine, I guess, and yet this is what goes on in Africa and other parts of the developing world. Women of childbearing age die every two minutes from pregnancy and other birth-related complications. In sub-Saharan Africa, women are 136 times more likely to die of pregnancy-related problems than in developed countries. From the onset of labor both the mother and the baby enter a high-risk period that results in a horrific 150,000 maternal deaths, 1.6 million neonatal deaths, and 1.2 million stillbirths each year.

According to the 2007 Zambia Demographic Health Survey (ZDHS), maternal deaths are a subset of all female deaths and are associated with pregnancy and childbearing common amongst the poorest in the country. As of last year (2010), Zambia’s Maternal Mortality Ratio (MMR) stood at 591 deaths per 100,000 live births, which is alarming for lack of a better word. The immediate causes of this massive loss of life include excessive bleeding, infection, unsafe abortion, high blood pressure and obstructed labor. But the underlying problems are poverty, low levels of education, low status of women and violence against women in a male-dominated society that does not seem to care.

It is hard to think that in Africa we have continental bodies, such as the African Union (AU), or regional ones, like the Southern African Development Conference (SADC), who should be setting goals towards the total eradication of deaths among women who are merely bringing life to the planet. Our governments should be ashamed that so many women should be dying from a non-disease in epidemic levels. It is not unheard of in the rural parts of Sub-Sahara Africa for a pregnant woman to die in wheelbarrow while being transported to the nearest health facility, which would likely be ten to twenty kilometers away.

The world would perhaps remember a Zambian mother who ended up giving birth in a car park in broad daylight. She survived the ordeal, but her child did not. The distressed husband recorded the painful and embarrassing event on camera and handed the pictures to a local newspaper. The newspaper was mature and responsible enough not to publish the pictures but distributed copies to the vice-president of the country, a few women’s organizations and a few influential individuals in a bid to persuade the government to urgently deal with the nurses’ grievances, which had caused them to go on a strike that resulted in the pregnant woman not receiving hospital service. Instead of the government looking into ways of preventing what happened to the woman from occurring again, it charged the journalist who sent it the pictures with peddling in porn. Neither the torment that the woman went through nor the death of her child meant anything to the president, his deputy and his male-dominated cabinet. All that came to their mind when they saw the pictures was porn.

If those in power can interpret as pornography pictures taken in such a dire, life-or-death situation, little wonder anyone hears anything about the genocide of poor women that goes on unceasingly in Africa every day. The death of a woman as a result of being pregnant or during labor is so prevalent it is no wonder that in Zambia pregnancy is equated with disease and when a woman delivers she is not greeted with “Congratulations” but “Mwapusukeni” – a local word that literally means “You have survived.”