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Report: Maternity waiting rooms help facilitate good births

When the distance from home to birth clinics is too far, the pregnant women can come to the hospital a couple of weeks before the baby is due. Here, they are accommodated in ”maternity waiting rooms” and the mothers-to-be are able to get a well-earned rest during the final stage of the pregnancy as they wait to go into labour.

Mødreventeværelset
Marita Gariwasho arrived at the hospital a couple of days ago with her mother. They are waiting for the queue to become shorter, so that the mother can cook food.
Photo: Joacim Præst/Danida

In front of what is called the “maternity waiting room” in Furancungo in the Tete province, the pregnant women sit close together on benches and on the concrete floor. They are here with their mother or sister and make lunch, relax, talk with other pregnant women and get a much-needed rest from what in some cases is hard physical labour in the tobacco plant fields.

They are here because they are due to give birth within the next few weeks. Several of the women do not know the date when their baby is due or how far they are into their pregnancy. Nevertheless, they know that they are fairly close to going into labour, and that is why they are sitting here in the maternity waiting room, waiting – to go into labour and for lunch to be ready.

They have left their husbands and children for a short while to make their way to the province’s district hospitals. A sister or mother goes with them to buy food and cook for them along the way, and when they go into labour they give birth in the presence of an experienced obstetric nurse or doctor. 

A break from normal life

Marita Gariwasho, 21, has been in the maternity waiting room for four days. She is pregnant with her second child and gave birth to her first child in the village, which is situated almost 20km from Furancungo.

”I would like to have the treatment offered in the hospital. I gave birth to my first child in the village, and I had no means of transport to get to the hospital when I went into labour”, she says. Not wanting a repeat of this situation, Maria decided to take her mother and drive along the poor roads leading to town in order to give birth at the hospital.

The most important thing for her is to be able to give birth with professional help. But she also enjoys having a break from the work in the fields and from the housekeeping, with cooking and other duties, and she sees the time spent in the maternity waiting room as a welcome break.

Poor infrastructure is the cause

The reason the maternity waiting room is so popular is that the average distance to health facilities in the Tete province is 20km. These 20km are in no way modern highways, but a bumpy road in poor condition. The numerous car wrecks along the roads are a constant reminder of the transportation challenges, especially with a woman in labour on the back seat.

The road to Macanga
It is roads like these that pregnant women have to travel to reach the hospital in Furancungo. That is why women prefer to arrive in good time and wait in the maternity waiting room rather than having to cross the bumpy roads whilst having contractions.
Photo: Joacim Præst/Danida

“The first 36 hours from the onset of labour to delivery are crucial for the woman’s well-being. Therefore, it can be very dangerous if a woman initially wants to give birth in the village, but then due to complications decides to travel 4-6 hours to reach the clinic”, says Danida adviser for sexual and reproductive health and rights in Tete, Dr. Diederike Geelhoed.

She explains that many hospitals in rural areas do not offer surgery, why it will add even more transportation hours if the woman needs a caesarean or another form of obstetric procedure.

In this way, the maternity waiting room helps prevent complications and reduce maternal mortality, which is a key aspect of sexual and reproductive health and rights. The mothers-to-be are at the location where they are to give birth and have access to trained staff that can diagnose the women at an early stage and intervene if problems arise.