Mary Chimunda sits perched on the narrow hospital bed, her newborn baby clutched to her chest. The 20-year-old beams as she looks down at her son, and lovingly rearranges the blanket swaddling him.
On either side of her are two new mothers, also caring for their infants. The ward’s silence is broken by the voice of the acting matron, Susan Mtokoma, jokingly asking the mothers if they intend to sell their breast milk. “No!” they reply in unison and immediately position their babies to suckle.
Mutambara Mission Hospital is a baby-friendly hospital and advocates exclusive breastfeeding of babies from within one hour after birth to six months. “Babies may be given other foods after six months, but we encourage mothers to continue breastfeeding for up to two years,” said Mtokoma.
The United Methodist hospital won the Baby Friendly Initiative Award for 2015 and its baby-friendly policy is now being used as a role model for the whole country, said Mtokoma.
Chimunda is overjoyed by the safe delivery of her son.
“I came to the hospital more than a week before my baby was born. I was resident at the mothers’ shelter while awaiting delivery because my home is more than 20 kilometers away and there is no reliable public transport due to the rough terrain,” she said.
She sadly recalled the loss of her first child on Jan. 24, 2013:
“I came to the hospital when I had been in labor for two days. The baby died within 24 hours and I was told that he was exhausted due to the prolonged labor. This time I did not want to risk losing my baby so I came and stayed at the shelter where I was closely monitored by specialist staff.”
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A place to stay
Mutambara Mission Hospital’s waiting mothers’ shelter was built in the 1960s for pregnant women who needed a place to stay while awaiting delivery. The shelter has undergone several changes since, including moving from its original site, and has expanded from a dormitory with 24 beds in 2009 to several buildings which can accommodate up to 70 women.
Missionary nurse-midwife Florence Mefor started feeding the expectant mothers in 2009 after witnessing some nutrition-related problems during prenatal checkups. “Some pregnant mothers would either faint or perspire abnormally, and upon enquiring what the problem was, the mothers complained of hunger and the lack of food,” she said.
The expectant mothers get three meals a day. Daily fetal heart checks also are done. Mefor said the hospital recommends women come to the shelter by the 36th week of pregnancy.
The main reasons for admission to the waiting mothers’ home include previous complications or caesarian deliveries, underlying chronic conditions, antiretroviral therapy, multiple pregnancies or abdominal or pelvic surgery, said Mefor.
Chimunda, who belongs to an apostolic religious group called Vadzidzi, said she was looking forward to being discharged when all medical checks had been done on herself and her baby. “I will travel home by public transport. The trip to my village costs $7,” she said.
Stella Mabhogo, 38, expecting her fourth child, said she too was grateful for the shelter. She was awaiting delivery after her pelvis was injured in a car accident. On makeshift crutches, she made her way slowly to the main hospital building for meals, at times getting help from other expectant mothers.
First-time mother Beatrice Magura spent more than four weeks at the shelter, possibly due to an error in calculating her expected date of delivery.
“I stay in Rusitu village and the nearest clinic does not deliver first babies. They fear that complications may arise and it will be difficult to get specialist treatment on time,” said Magura, 21.
Retired nurse aide Catherine Chingwaro has worked at the Mutambara shelter for the past two years.
“I monitor the women during their stay here and teach them to sew baby clothes and blankets and cook simple meals with assistance from Sister Mefor,” she said.
Chingwaro, 67, added that she accompanies women in labor to the maternity ward.
“Some of the women do not disclose when labor starts because they do not want to go to the ward early. At times I discover them in advanced stages of labor and have to call the midwives to attend them at the shelter,” she said.
Female ambulance driver
To complement the shelter and provide comprehensive maternal services, Mutambara Mission Hospital has one new ambulance sent by the Zimbabwe government.
Ambulance driver Tapuwa Nota Mundondwa is another success story for the hospital.
“The hospital encouraged me to undergo the training required to drive government vehicles,” she said.
Mundondwa, the only female ambulance driver in Chimanimani district, said maternity cases make up most of her work.
Expectant mothers’ homes are a common feature at rural hospitals in Zimbabwe where mountainous regions, poor roads and long distances may result in failure to get to the hospital quickly in emergencies. The homes are an essential service that has enabled the country to reduce the deaths of women during, or shortly after, childbirth.
Mtokoma said the Mutambara shelter is one of the best nationally and is currently being funded by the United Nations Population Fund.
In March 20015, the fund reported the maternal death rate in Zimbabwe had dropped 36 percent since 2009, from 960 deaths per 100,000 deliveries to 614 deaths per 100,000.
The Mother and Child Survival Project run by the United Methodist Church feeds the women and also pays the salary of the assistant nurse who monitors the women and maintains the Mutambara Mission Hospital shelter.
Mutambara Mission Hospital, the second largest United Methodist health facility in the Zimbabwe Episcopal Area, recently won the maternal and child services trophy sponsored by a local organization. The institution has over 120 beds and is a designated district hospital for Chimanimani, an area with an estimated population of 140,000.
Chikwanah is a communicator of the Zimbabwe East Annual Conference.
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