Opinion

Families can build sustainable healthy lives

15 May 2016
Zimbabwe joined the rest of the world in commemorating the International Day of Families under the theme: “Families, healthy lives and sustainable future”. Photo: UNFPA Zimbabwe/Charmaine Chitate

Harare, 15 May 2016 - Today Zimbabwe joins the rest of the world in commemorating the International Day of Families under the theme: “Families, healthy lives and sustainable future”. The theme suggests that families are the custodians of a sustainable future but in order for families to successfully play this role, they have to be healthy.

As each and every one of us is a member of a family, this year’s theme challenges us to reflect on whether or not we are playing our part in the families that we belong to ensure the health and wellbeing of other family members. In particular, whether or not we are making a positive contribution towards building a sustainable future for the young members of our families.

The good health and wellbeing of families is at the root of what we do in Zimbabwe.

As the United Nations Populations Fund (UNFPA), families are very important to us. The good health and wellbeing of families is at the root of what we do in Zimbabwe. Our mandate is ensure universal access to Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) to Zimbabweans, especially for women and young people.

In this piece, we take the opportunity to share a little of what we believe Zimbabweans can do within their families to ensure good health and well-being of their families.

Maternal health

Child birth is a feature of almost every family in Zimbabwe. In UNFPA we firmly believe that no woman should die while giving birth. Unfortunately, for many families, instead of being a joyous event, child birth can be a source of death, disability and sorrow. Statistics tell us that 614 women for every 100 000 live births die from birth related complications. This means we have at least 6 women dying every day while giving birth.

The state of a woman’s maternal health is often determined by decisions taken by the pregnant woman’s family members. While it has been shown that access to quality care during pregnancy can lead to greater maternal health and a reduced risk of maternal and infant deaths, for many women, decisions concerning what services the woman can access and when to access them are often made by family members other than the pregnant woman herself. Inadequate prenatal care and delay in seeking services can lead to emergencies that can put the lives of the mother and her baby in danger. This calls on husbands, as largely the controllers of the family purse, to prioritise the health needs of the pregnant wife.  This calls on mothers and sisters in law as decision makers on family matters of this nature to be supportive of their pregnant daughters in laws to help ensure safe motherhood. In most homesteads, the daughter in law is supposed to do most of the household chores. In Zimbabwe, being industrious is an attribute that is highly valued in a daughter in law but too many chores can impair the health of a pregnant woman. In homesteads where daughters in law reside with their in laws they should be allowed adequate rest without being made to feel inadequate.

Sexual Health

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) can wreak havoc on the health of the family. Left untreated, sexually transmitted diseases can lead to death or disability. Apart from the physical burden of disease on the sufferer, STIs can impoverish the family by impairing the capacity of the family breadwinners to work. Some STIs like HIV / AIDS and syphilis can be transmitted to the unborn child with devastating consequences.

Every family member has a responsibility to the rest of the family to ensure his or her own optimal sexual health by not engaging in unprotected sex, going for regular HIV counselling and testing and by seeking prompt treatment for STIs. It is important that where family members become victims of sexual violence to seek medical attention within 72 hours. In addition, HIV positive members of the family should be supported to adhere to Anti-Retroviral Therapy (ART) while male members of the family should be encouraged to get circumcised to reduce their chances of contracting HIV. Female members of the family should be encouraged to go for regular cervical cancer screening. It is absolutely vital that special attention be paid to members of the family living with disabilities.

Family Planning

In a healthy family, the conception of every pregnancy should be a source of joy to its parents and never a risk to the health of its mother. When pregnancies are unplanned, they can be a source of financial, social and emotional stress to the family. If child birth is too frequent it can compromise the health of the mother. Family planning offers couples the means to control both the number and frequency of pregnancies.

UNFPA works very closely with the Government of Zimbabwe to ensure that women of child bearing age have access to family planning services and commodities. Men should play their part by either themselves choosing to take responsibility for preventing pregnancies in one of the various ways available for men or supporting their partners in using the method that has been deemed best for them. Parent-child communication on sexual and reproductive matters should be proactive and not reactive. It is important for sexually active family members to seek to be educated about the options available for family planning and access this where necessary. Young girls and boys in families must be given age appropriate education on sexuality and responsible sexual conduct to avoid unwanted pregnancies and other negative consequences.

Gender Based Violence

Gender Based Violence (GBV) is big problem in Zimbabwe. The saddest thing about this is that most of this violence takes place in family settings. Violence takes the shape of physical violence and emotional abuse between spouses and sexual abuse of young girls by family members (incest). What compounds family violence is the culture of shame and silence that surrounds it. Family members should realise that violence is like a putrid fungus. It thrives in darkness. Accordingly, it is the responsibility of every family member to prevent any cases of violence and report them to the police in cases where they occur. In addition, spouses should be proactive in seeking counselling and mediation to resolve conflict.

In UNFPA, we also work towards ensuring that every young person meets their potential. Child marriage is a grave human rights violation which prevents a child from reaching her full potential. Child Marriage is a form of GBV and is prohibited by the law. Sadly, the marriage of a child can only take place with the complicity of adult members of the family. Parents should recognise child rape for what it is and not seek to sanitise it by demanding monetary compensation from the abuser. Aunties and uncles should refuse to participate in family meetings were young girls are married off and report such happenings to the Police.

Of course there is so much more that we as Zimbabweans can do in our families to ensure the wellbeing of our families; but as UNFPA we believe that if you can do the few things that we suggest in this piece, you would have gone a long way in doing your part to ensure healthy lives and a sustainable future in keeping with this year’s theme!

About the author

Choice Damiso is a lawyer by profession and Programme Specialist for Gender for the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) here in Zimbabwe.  UNFPA support the Government of Zimbabwe to implement a number of programmes on Gender Based Violence, HIV/AIDS, Adolescent Sexual Reproductive Health, Population and Development and maternal health. She can be reached at damiso@unfpa.org