At a hospital in Zimbabwe, local women were forced to pay a bribe when approaching the hospital for help in giving birth. When the local radio, Community Radio Harare (CORAH) found out, they helped bring about change by giving the victims a voice and exposing the practice.
Beauty Nyamusanguza of Epworth, a populous suburb South-East of Capital Harare, recalls how her niece lost her first baby during labour at a clinic in the area. Why? Because they couldn’t afford a bribe the midwives demanded to help her.
Beauty recalls the fateful night with both shock and disdain: “When my pregnant niece’s water broke, we rushed to Overspill Clinic for help. On arrival, the nurses made it clear that without being paid a bribe of $US10 they were not going to do anything. This was despite having paid the mandatory maternity fees months earlier in preparation for this day.”
According to Beauty, during the negotiation, whinging in pain and calling for help, the niece gave birth on the bench and tragically the baby dropped to the floor and died.
“It was like a horror movie,” she recalls. “The baby dropped to the floor and all I could do was to scream while the nurses looked at me as if nothing had happened. The baby died just like that for $US10 that we could not afford because we are a poor family.”
Expectant mothers in Zimbabwe pay $US25 maternity fees to be assisted at times of delivery, but without paying a bribe, which are locally referred to as “drink money”, often one will not be attended to.
The widely reported issue has left many in a fix, particularly pregnant women who will be due for delivery. There are reports of victims who have suffered stillbirth or other birth-related complications after they were not promptly attended to.
Local nurses have been calling for the government to capacitate health workers, as part of measures to reduce the massive brain drain that has seen hundreds of health professionals leaving the country for greener pastures.
Community Radio Harare
Last year, the partly Fojo-IMS international supported Community Radio Harare (CORAH) station exposed the practice, forcing the elected Councillor of the area to act.
CORAH is a civic rights lobby & advocacy organisation that uses online and offline innovative, audio/radio programmes, community – based and alternative media platforms to promote civic engagement, hold local/national authorities accountable on service delivery and governance issues.
Nonhlanhla Ngwenya, CORAH’s Programme coordinator and editor speaking on the story said: “We first heard of this story through our community structures. One of our citizen journalists tipped us of the corruption that was happening at Overspill Clinic in Epworth. Pregnant women were being forced to pay a bribe of $US10 up to $US25 just to be attended to. We did short videos and podcast and uploaded them on our Facebook pages, and this went viral. The Councillor from the community approached us over this issue.”
FOJO-IMS international is supporting CORAH in a project aimed at promoting women participation in local governance and developmental issues.
“We have selected about 40 women from Epworth. We have trained them on how to speak out, exercise the freedom of expression, how to be confident and how to use social media to whistle blow to make sure issues like these are never buried in the cracks of corruption,” Nonhlanhla said.
Home births now popular
Linda Chihomba wipes sweat off her forehead before she speaks: “My first baby died at Dombo hospital. He died in my womb. I was told he had swallowed stool but nobody could help me because I could not afford the &US10 that was needed to make the nurse do her job. I am pregnant again and this time I will give birth at a house of an older woman (untrained midwife) who has helped many. She charges only $US3 to do this. I can’t afford to pay a nurse.”
Backyard midwives, who are essentially informal helpers in childbirth, are growing in number as Zimbabwe’s health care shortfall worsens. They charge low fees – if at all – and provide an essential service, as their growing workloads show.
Peter Nyapetwa, Epworth Residents Development Association Chairman said: “The CORAH story helped us a lot because there was change in the attitude of the health workers and fear to ask for bribes. However, we still hear of cases of similar status from our community sources. It is critical that stories like this one be kept alive. The media is critical and very much a part of mending our communities.”