Dire results from sexual liaisons between Zim adults and minors
MOANS and groans reverberate throughout the two-metre wide corridor of the two-bed maternity ward at Epworth Polyclinic in Epworth, a dormitory town 15km from Harare.
The distress sounds are coming from 17-year-old Joyline* who has been in labour for the past six hours.
She is here for the second time in two years although she is yet to reach the legal age of marriage in Zimbabwe.
Although the country has made strides by enacting laws against early marriage, the practice is still rampant, particularly in densely populated areas where there is high unemployment and most people survive below the poverty datum line. Sexual liaisons between adults and minors are rampant.
Many of the adolescent girls here engage in commercial sex work. They claim that unprotected sex brings more money than safe sex.
The four nurses stationed at the clinic have been watching Joyline in pain for hours and they fear she could bleed if she is not transferred to a hospital.
They could not attend to her in that period because she came to the ward without latex gloves.
The clinic lacks basic equipment and patients are now required to bring their own medical sundries when coming to labour, including latex gloves and clipping pins to nip the remainder of the umbilical cord on the newborn.
The nurses could also not initiate the patient transfer because that can only be done if the young unemployed mother pays US$40 to be transferred to Sally Mugabe Hospital or Chitungwiza General Hospital.
Joyline’s only hope lies with Chipo Mlambo, a Zimbabwean who recently relocated to the country from Canada. Mlambo conducts philanthropic work catering for adolescents and young women who cannot fend for themselves.
She walks into the clinic at around 11am with a box of the required gloves and quickly goes to the teenager who is seemingly losing energy from the rigorous labour.
As soon as the nurses get the gloves, they spring up from the chairs to assist the agonising teenager.
Mlambo was alerted by the nurses of the predicament at 8am, but could only arrive here hours later because she passed through the pharmacy looking for the gloves as well as medication for one of the girls she assisted four months ago.
The girl’s infant has terrible nappy rush and a dry cough, and has also had to alternate between home and the hospital because of recurring pneumonia.
This is post-natal care that she is doing four months after assisting with a safe delivery for the adolescent mother.
Mlambo believes God sent her to help these children and save their lives as well as those of their children.
“This is a calling for me. God sent me to Zimbabwe to save these children and I will soldier on. Not that I do not quit every second day because of frustrations but, I am always back here doing what I love. I am passionate about this and I would do it every day,” she says with a smile.
Before this intervention, Mlambo ensures that the adolescents register their pregnancies at the local clinic and provides the first clothes that the newborns would wear in what she has termed mapona (you have given birth) birth kit.
But, because the adolescents are desperate for survival, they usually sell the new clothes and other components in the kit for a plate of sadza, and at times alcohol as well as drugs.
Joyline got her kit when she registered her pregnancy, but some things are missing.
Though disappointed, Mlambo says she does not blame the children.
“Can I blame her? No. She is just a child. She had to sell them so that she can survive. I can’t blame her,” she said while sifting through the boot of her car to replace all the things missing from the kit.
She adds that she would prefer having a place at the clinic where the kits can be stored so that the kits are kept safe.
“I want council to give me space at this clinic so that I can put up a shed where we lock up these birth kits. The children will deliver here anyway so the nurse in charge will just get the kit out. Not to have these instances where the child is in labour and all the things in the kit are missing,” she said.
Mlambo’s drive comes from her own experience of losing a mother during labour.
Her mother died at Parirenyatwa Hospital while giving birth to Mlambo’s brother who is also late now. The 41-year-old was only 13-years old when the incident happened, in 1995.
It is this experience that drives her passion to mitigate and ensure that a life is saved during labour. She leads an organisation called Rhonaflo Foundation, through which she does her philanthropic work.
The name Rhonaflo is a combination of names, Rhoda her maternal grandmother, Nandi her daughter and Florida, her late mother.
The logo also has the four people who matter to her most, Rhoda, Nandi, Florida and her late brother in the middle.
She is popular on Twitter for venting it out on other women’s organisations she accuses of not doing enough to promote sexual and reproductive health rights among adolescents.
Anyone who patiently watches her doing this work for just an hour will readily testify that her frustrations are justified.
*Not her real name.