Underlying the rising neonatal deaths, Zimbabwe has a very high rate of preterm births. “We’re ranked number four in the world
,” says Jennifer Barak, UNICEF Zimbabwe’s Health Manager. At many of the hospitals Jennifer visits, newborns are dying from preventable causes due to poor quality of care linked to human resource shortages, unavailability of consistent water and electricity supply and general limited resources that hospitals receive.
Thankfully, Unity is now gaining weight and will soon be discharged. “Only 50 grams to go,” says her dad, Walter happily. New mum Tendai and her first born son, Vision, are also in the ward. Vision was born at 29 weeks and was even smaller than Unity. He hasn’t been gaining weight and nurses are worried.
The World Health Organisation recommends premature babies stay in health care facilities until they weigh at least 2.5kg. Here however, at the small district hospital, there are not enough beds to keep the babies this long.
We lose so many [babies] during this period."
Unity will be leaving the hospital while she’s still classified as low-weight and at-risk of ongoing complications.
“Many newborns are dying in communities but these deaths go unreported,” says Jennifer. Once women return home, they have extremely limited access to health services because of the long distances they need to travel to similarly under-resourced rural healthcare clinics.
These challenges mean that women and their babies are being sent back into sometimes extremely remote communities too soon, and Zimbabwe’s families are feeling the most brutal impact.