Improving Emergency Obstetric Care, A Top Priority to Save Lives of Mothers and Newborns
UNICEF, with support from Sweden, brings emergency obstetric equipment to maternity units of Zambia, improving survival of mothers and newborns at risk
“Eight months into my pregnancy, I woke up one morning with severe nausea and light bleeding. I was scared and rushed to the nearby government hospital. I went into the labor but it could not progress. After three days, I was referred to the University Teaching Hospital (UTH) emergency in Lusaka”
Lusaka District, Zambia, May 2023 - Zambia experienced more than 800 maternal deaths and over 7,700 perinatal deaths in 2022. While asphyxia, prematurity and newborn sepsis remain the leading causes of perinatal and newborn deaths, major causes of maternal deaths include obstetric hemorrhage, hypertensive disorders, pregnancy related infections, abortive outcomes, and other indirect causes.
“The first time when I was told that I was two months pregnant, I could not believe it. My husband and I were overjoyed,” says Veronica Banda (23). “Six months later, one morning I woke up with severe nausea and light bleeding. I was scared and was rushed to the nearby government hospital. I went into the labor, but it could not progress and after three days, I was referred to the University Teaching Hospital (UTH) emergency in Lusaka,” she adds.
Veronica is a teacher by profession and teaches children at a nursery school in her neighborhood. She aspires to become a nurse and, knowing the importance of care during pregnancy, Veronica never missed any antenatal visit. Recalling her childbirth experience, Veronica shares: “I was extremely distressed when I learnt that I will be delivering my first child through a caesarian section, how could I? But then the doctors and nurses explained the situation to me and helped me calm down, as that is what was needed to save my life and that of my baby. I was taken to the operation theatre right away.” Veronica gave pre-term birth to a baby girl, who is currently being kept in an incubator, where she gets hospital care and regular breastmilk every three hours.
“I am now looking forward to my baby’s full recovery and to holding her in my arms so that she can feel my heartbeat and the warmth,” says Veronica, with hope in her voice.
In Zambia, only selected well-equipped general hospitals and the UTH in Lusaka can provide full spectrum of Emergency Newborn and Obstetric Care services. Earlier, long queues were formed to receive the emergency care, creating bottlenecks for both - the pregnant women and the hospitals – thus, keeping many mothers and babies deprived of services and timely care, leading to complications and deaths.
In October 2022, with generous support from the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA), and UNICEF’s resources, UNICEF Zambia procured Emergency Obstetric Theater equipment and supplies worth US$64,184. These supplies and equipment were installed by the Ministry of Health, Government of Zambia at the UTH, Women and Newborn Health (WNH) maternity unit, Lusaka Province, resulting in expanding emergency newborn maternity care services.
“There are nearly 30 deliveries here every day, half of which require an emergency cesarean section. With this equipment provided by UNICEF and SIDA, we are now able to manage several cases that have complications. Seeing the mothers leave with their babies in good condition gives me satisfaction, as these are the precious and critical lives that we have saved."
“Last three years have been challenging for the state of maternal and newborn health and supplies provision,” says Dr. Apurva Chaturvedi, Health Specialist, UNICEF Zambia. “In 2021, when COVID19 was at its peak, we visited the WNH obstetric unit at UTH. Our team identified an urgent need to procure equipment including anesthesia machines and monitors for operationalization of the emergency obstetric unit. It was not easy as the world was faced with a pandemic, but seeing the results, I can say it was all well worth the effort, she adds.
Reflecting on managing the flights and procurement, the Supply & Logistics Specialist, UNICEF Zambia, Emmanuel Otoo says, “UNICEF's robust supply chain delivered this medical equipment when flights and shipments were prioritized for Covid19 response, but a time when it was needed the most in Zambia. We will continue supporting the installation and user training to ensure effective use of the equipment. I am delighted to be a part of a humanitarian supply chain that is saving lives, particularly of mothers and newborns.”
The obstetric theater at UTH provides 24-hour services to mothers and newborns with emergency obstetric care, therefore, decreasing the wait time for C-section cases and improving maternal and newborn outcomes.
“There are nearly 30 deliveries at here every day, half of which require an emergency cesarean section,” says Dr. Selia Ng’anjo, Head of Obstetric unit, UTH WNH maternity unit, Lusaka Province. “With this equipment, we are now able to manage several cases with complications. Seeing the mothers leave with their babies in good condition gives me satisfaction, as these are the precious and critical mothers and newborns lives that we have saved. Sometimes, however, a mother is not able to go back home with her baby, but we try and manage them by providing counseling services to them, she adds.”