A United Methodist mission hospital is sending pregnant women home to protect them from the coronavirus while they wait for labor to start, even as the number seeking shelter has surged.
Mutambara Mission Hospital has reduced the number of pregnant women staying at its waiting mothers’ shelter due to the COVID-19 crisis.
The hospital has been housing about 70 women since Cyclone Idai devastated the region a little over a year ago. Now, the hospital is trying to limit that number to about 40, admitting only women with high-risk pregnancies and those who are close to delivering.
The pandemic, however, has brought more women to the shelter to await the arrival of their babies. Some come early because they live far from the shelter and don’t want to face an issue with transportation, while others fear being exposed to the coronavirus, said Florence Ogugua Mefor, a midwife at the hospital. Those who have had C-sections in the past also often come to the shelter ahead of time to avoid possible complications, she said.
“The 21-day lockdown in the country is a contributory factor to the surge in number of waiting mothers this time, with ages ranging from 15 to 35 years,” Mefor said. “Some refuse and cry not to go back to their homes. (They want to) stay at the hospital.”
Mefor and her husband, Dr. Emmanuel Mefor, are from Nigeria and serve as missionaries with the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries. He is one of three resident doctors at Mutambara Mission Hospital, the referral hospital for the district of Manicaland, which has 24 clinics and two rural hospitals.
“I thank God that this hospital did not totally close down because of this COVID-19,” said 19-year-old Idah Gozo, a pregnant mother admitted to the waiting mothers’ shelter.
Grace Kuretu, 32, from Bvumbura community, said she feels safer at the hospital.
“This is my second time to be admitted at this shelter. The staff are so caring and I am safe from this coronavirus fears out in the community,” she said.
There have been 23 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Zimbabwe and three deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data.
Ethel Mapanda, Mutambara Mission Hospital administrator, said the number of waiting mothers increased after the lockdown announcement by the president on March 30.
“We are trying to decongest the mothers to reduce the spread of the virus,” she said. However, she noted, there are still around 45-60 women staying per day, on average. “The number has decreased a bit because the hospital is not accepting those who are not referred.”
Dr. Emmanuel Mefor said hospital deliveries are gaining popularity in Zimbabwe, where home births are common, especially in rural areas.
“This is very good,” he said. “Those who are really at risk are referred to Mutambara Hospital from the clinics. But there also those who come … on their own volition as a matter of choice.”
In terms of readiness for COVID-19, the hospital is only providing services to emergency cases. The health ministry has directed hospitals to reduce the number of patients to limit contact.
“So far, we have not had any suspicious cases. Presently, we don't have (the) items needed if eventually any case comes up,” Mefor said. “We have very minimal personal protective equipment, which is running out.”
Nhamo Mirato, head nurse of admitting at Mutambara, said the facility has taken steps to protect patients from the coronavirus, including forming an eight-member virus taskforce and discharging patients who are well enough to go home.
“Only critical patients are admitted. Two isolation rooms were identified for male and female patients. Resources were mobilized and distributed in wards and departments,” Mirato said.
“All staff were taught on COVID-19 by the infection control nurse. Outpatients and pregnant waiting mothers are seen in small numbers of five for social distancing.”
She agreed that the hospital does not have enough protective clothing for health care workers.
“The few boxes of surgical masks that we had are now out of stock. … There are no aprons, gumshoes, bin liners, disposable gowns, hand sanitizer or sharps (disposal) tins,” Mirato said.
Kumuterera is a communicator for the Zimbabwe West Conference.
News media contact: Vicki Brown at (615) 742-5470 or [email protected]. To read more United Methodist news, subscribe to the free Daily or Weekly Digests.