by Tichaona Chifamba
HARARE, May 6 (Xinhua) -- The Chinese Embassy in Zimbabwe and United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF) Harare Office signed a project completion certificate on Friday for the Chinese government-established South-South Cooperation Assistance Fund (SSCAF) which sought to improve health delivery to pregnant women and newborn babies.
The project, whose cycle ran from Jan. 1, 2020, with UNICEF being the implementing agency, operationally closed on Dec. 30, 2021.
Zimbabwe is one of eight African countries to have benefited from the program, the others being the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Kenya, Niger, Nigeria, Sierra Leone and Sudan.
Through the China-Africa collaboration to accelerate maternal, newborn and child health (MNCH) in the country, the aim of the project was to reduce the number of deaths of newborn babies, which is deemed to be too high.
While the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals target says that by 2030 every country should have a neonatal mortality rate of at least as low as 12 deaths per 1,000 live births, Zimbabwe's current rate is 32 per 1,000.
"As a country, Zimbabwe's current rate is 32 per 1,000 with disparities between and within provinces. At current levels, the number of babies that die in the first 28 days of life remains unacceptably high. Data captured by different surveys show that the neonatal mortality estimation has not changed much since 1988," a report issued at the end of the project says.
The overall objective of the project was therefore to accelerate improvements in availability, quality, and utilization of maternal, newborn and child health services.
"The specific objective of the project was to improve access to and quality of MNCH interventions in Zimbabwe towards achieving health SDGs by achieving maternal mortality reduction of 651/100,000 live births to 300/100,000 live births by 2021," the report says.
Targeted provinces were Matabeleland South and Mashonaland Central, with added support on essential equipment being provided to all provincial and central hospitals in the country.
Cumulatively, 1,741,251 people were reached with 57,176 pregnant women being referred to health facilities.
"For child health, a total of 447,138 children under five received growth monitoring, 5,216 children with diarrhea were appropriately treated by VHWs (village health workers) using ORS and Zinc at community level.
"Also, 216,722 women and children were reached with integrated maternal, neonatal, child health and nutrition services at outreach points and 1,020,215 families were reached with COVID-19 prevention messages during the reporting period," the report adds.
The report says that despite the impact of COVID-19 on utilization and access to services, great efforts were made to sustain continuity of services during the project period through integration of related MNCH services such as MNCH and the Extended Program on Immunization outreach integration.
During its subsistence, the project carried out capacity-building programs for pre-service tutors at training institutions, including nursing, midwifery and medical schools in effectively teaching topics around maternal and newborn health.
At least 58 nurse tutors or educators and university lecturers were oriented to new and improved teaching methodologies and technologies for competency-based training to improve the quality of pre-service education.
Health workers also received on-the-job training to raise their competency level in basic emergency obstetric and newborn care.
About 3,500 village health workers were also refreshed on community-based care initiatives including COVID-19 and health emergencies and were also provided with kits for the newborn care program such as weighing scales, respiratory timers, thermometers, medical supplies and bicycles.
A total of 600 bicycles procured with support from the Chinese government were distributed to village health workers residing more than 10 km from their reporting health facilities.
The bicycles helped them cover more ground, reaching a total of 384,465 households in the two provinces. ■