Praying Until Death: Apostolicism, Gender Violence and Maternal Mortality in Zim

Esther Mukadiro-Nyahoda of Sanzaguru in Rusape, who had an ultrasound scan that recommended a Caesarean section but snubbed medical instruction all in the name of religion, died in labour at an apostolic shrine recently.

By Lazarus Sauti

Her husband, Mandi Nyahoda, prioritised apostolic religious beliefs when an ultrasound scan had detected that Esther, who was carrying her first pregnancy and registered at Sanzaguru Clinic, had twins, one of whom was in a breech presentation – a foetus in a longitudinal lie with the buttocks or feet closest to the cervix.

Esther lost a lot of blood as the apostolic midwife tried to induce her into delivering the second baby without success.

Sorrowfully, she died, together with her twins.

In a related case, Esnath Sengamayi also died soon after giving birth at an apostolic shrine in Wedza.

She visited Madzimai Prisca Bvekwa’s holy place at St Barnabas seeking divine assistance over her pregnancy and delivered a baby boy after three days with the help of Bvekwa, who had no formal midwifery qualifications.

Miserably, Sengamayi developed post-natal complications and died after three hours.

Autopsy results showed that she had died of post-partum haemorrhage (PPH), often identified as the loss of more than 500 ml or 1 000 ml of blood within the first 24 hours following childbirth.

Worryingly, blood loss is accepted as being common or a self-cleansing procedure by the body, according to Madzibaba Richard Chiroro, an owner of an apostolic shrine in Tafara.

He said his church, like most apostolic groups, does not allow pregnant women to visit clinics since prayers are more powerful than drugs.

Madzibaba Chiroro believes there is also nothing much to worry about since apostolic midwives are trained by the Holy Spirit to conduct deliveries and pray for pregnant women, especially those with complications.

Sekereke yemweya (as a spiritual church), we pray for the sick and pregnant women, as well as give them muteuro (anointing water) to use at home,” he said. “When there is no improvement in their health, we leave it in the hands of God, the greatest physician.”

Mukadiro-Nyahoda and Sengamayi’s cases proved that religion has a strong bearing on gender violence and maternal mortality in Zimbabwe, a fact supported by Kenneth Munyaradzi Dodzo of the Centre for Population Studies at the University of Zimbabwe.

“Apostolic leaders believe that marriage is made in heaven plus is conceived in the spirit and this compromises female sexual and reproductive health,” Dodzo said, adding that apostolicism promotes early and forced marriages, non-use of contraceptives as well as low or non-use of hospital care.

Dodzo also believes apostolicism not only takes women away from formal healthcare; it also causes delays in recognising danger signs and this is propagating maternal mortality in the country.

The Ministry of Health and Child Care reported that at least 242 women died while giving birth in 2017 whereas 514 women had died whilst giving birth in 2016.

“Zimbabwe’s maternal death rate currently stands at 614 per 100 000 live births,” noted the 2014 United Nations Children’s Fund figures.

Women Coalition of Zimbabwe (WCoZ) national director, Sally Ncube, therefore, calls for continuous empowerment of religious leaders and apostolic midwives to play key roles in fighting gender violence, as well as averting maternal mortality.

“Existing spiritual maternal care services should also be made safer by engrafting skilled workers on top of providing drugs, equipment over and above medical sundries,” she said. “This should be done as a strategy of assimilating religious radicals into the public health system.”

Pastors Child Protection Forum Eastern District chairperson, Misha Wilson Misha, believes dialogue with apostolic groups is the way to go.

“Platforms for dialogue between formal health providers and apostolic groups should be promoted and the process should focus broadly on building and maintaining social networks that make easy the dissemination of positive information on health and gender,” he said.

Founder of Rozaria Memorial Trust, Nyaradzai Gumbonzvanda, also encourages policy makers and religious figureheads to use domestic resources to improve health infrastructure and fight all forms of gender violence and maternal mortality.

“The government, as the biggest stakeholder, should encourage apostolic churches to reform and inculcate in them positive ideas of shunning child marriages as well as delivering children at health facilities,” she said.

As for researcher, Dr. Brian Maguranyanga, improved Information, Education and Communication (IEC) is an effective strategy to address misinformation and lack of understanding on health matters among apostolic groups.

In his study, “Apostolic Religion, Health and Utilisation of Maternal and Child Health Services in Zimbabwe”, Dr. Maguranyanga also urged policy debate on legislating mandatory healthcare for children and pregnant women in the interest of promoting right to health while addressing fundamental religious questions.

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