By Robert Tapfumaneyi
The UN human rights chief Navi Pillay has said people in Zimbabwe’s remote, poverty-stricken rural areas are facing the most serious health problems in the country.
Addressing journalist in Harare at the end of her five day working visit, the UN chief said in particular the government of Zimbabwe needs to do more on maternal health in order to help women and children who die during labour.
“Women have been faring far less well in some other spheres: maternal mortality has worsened steadily over the past two decades from 283 deaths per 100,000 births in 1994 to around 960 per 100,000 in 2010-2011,” said Ums Pillay.
The figure has risen by more than 40% in the past six years alone. One factor in this disturbing deterioration is believed to be the charging of ‘user fees’ at treatment in clinics.
“Such fees are simply beyond the means of many women and as a result, they sometimes do not even consider giving birth in a hospital or clinic. Some women in labour have to walk as much as 20 kilometres to find medical care because they could not afford transport,” said Ms Pillay.
On a positive not, Ms Pillay said Zimbabwe has made significant progress on combating HIV and AIDS despite an otherwise alarming decline in the country’s medical services. The overall HIV prevalence rate has almost halved from 23.7% in 2001 to 14% in 2009, although the drop in female prevalence is only marginal (from 7.61% to 6.7%).
One very good achievement on the women’s human rights and health front is that half of the Supreme Court judges are now female, and there are a number of women ministers and senior public officials.
Women’s groups and the relevant United Nations agencies believe that sexual, domestic and politically motivated violence against women are also widespread and on the rise, especially around election times.
“Zimbabwe has the necessary legal framework for dealing with these crimes, but – like many other aspects of the legal system – the relevant laws are not being implemented properly,” said Pillay.
Many women are reluctant to report violence because they have lost trust in the police. Little effort appears to have been made to establish how many women were subjected to sexual violence around the time of the 2008 elections, and even though the identity of a number of the alleged perpetrators is known, there has reportedly been little or no attempt to investigate, arrest and prosecute.