ZIMBABWE: Children who never existed

Source: IRIN
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JOHANNESBURG, 26 November 2009 (IRIN) – Workers living on a farm settlement about 35km from Harare, Zimbabwe’s capital, bury their dead children secretly because parents cannot afford to get them to a clinic or hospital in time. “The farmer who is running this farm is not paying us our wages and, as a result, there is no way in which we can raise the money to go to clinics or hospitals,” Gerald Campion, 50, a farm worker, told IRIN. The settlement has two self-appointed “midwives”, who sometimes err in helping pregnant women, resulting in deaths. “People on this farm don’t know how to use contraceptives, and there are so many pregnancies that the women take care of,” Campion said. Theresa Maphosa, 14, of Hopley Farm, a makeshift settlement 10km outside Harare, has been left to tend her sick six-month-old brother after their mother died of bleeding while giving birth. Her father is unemployed and cannot afford to take the infant to hospital, and their neighbour, Nesia Simukayi, is afraid that the infant will die soon. The plight of the farm workers illustrates the grim scenario portrayed in a new survey by the government and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), indicating that access to vital social services for women and children is worsening. A hundred children younger than five years die every day, mostly of preventable diseases like pneumonia, HIV/AIDS and diarrhoea, said UNICEF. The Multiple Indicator and Monitoring Survey (MIMS) noted a 20 percent increase in the number of deaths of children aged under five years since 1999, particularly those in rural areas and vulnerable communities with low income. The survey in May 2009 found that one in every two pregnant women in rural areas was delivering at home, 39 percent across the country did not have access to requisite medical facilities, “while 40 percent were not attended to at birth by a skilled attendant, posing huge dangers for both mothers and newborns”. The poorest were also finding it more difficult to access health services, which had severely deteriorated during Zimbabwe’s 10-year economic crisis, said Tsitsi Singizi, UNICEF Zimbabwe’s communications officer. Even though the MMIS report painted a gloomy picture, “As UNICEF, we hope that the report will be used to identify areas of need and mobilize the necessary resources,” Singizi told IRIN. “We are concerned that the trend whereby standards of living continue to fall is bad news regarding the attainment of the Millennium Development Goals but with the right attitude, we can achieve them.” Farms were hard hit by droughts and the fast-track land-reform programme, launched in 2000, and have been unable to produce enough food to feed the country. The US-based Famine Early Warning System Network (FEWSNET) reported in September that Zimbabwe faced a cereal shortage of between 180,000 metric tons and 370,000 metric tons, making it difficult for vulnerable communities to access adequate nutrition.

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