Making Motherhood Safer in Zambia

The Minister of the Ministry of Community Development Mother and Child Health (MCDMCH) learns more about rapid syphilis testing (RST).


EGPAF works in countries around the world to not only eliminate pediatric HIV, but to also help keep mothers healthy. In Zambia, EGPAF and its partners are taking part in an anti-syphilis campaign to help mothers get tested and treated for syphilis and reduce the number of women who die during pregnancy and childbirth.

Zambia has a maternal mortality ratio of 483 deaths per 100,000 live births, meaning that an estimated 38 women die every month during pregnancy and childbirth.  If Zambia is to reach the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) target of fewer than 162 deaths per 100,000 live births, all stakeholders will need to take part in intensified maternal health intervention efforts. In May, the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation (EGPAF) participated in the commemoration of Safe Motherhood Week in Chipata District, in Zambia’s Eastern Province. The trip’s goal was to train health care workers to use Rapid Syphilis Tests (RSTs), distribute the test kits, and provide onsite support during the week.

Safe Motherhood Week is an annual event in Zambia, which began in 2010 to celebrate the country’s commitment to achieving MDG5 and to launch the Campaign on Accelerated Reduction of Maternal Mortality in Africa (CARMMA). This year’s celebrations took place from May 19 to May 25 in Chipata District, and centered on efforts to raise awareness about maternal health and promote the increased use of health services. With support from its partners, the Ministry of Community Development Mother and Child Health (MCDMCH) conducted a vigorous campaign in Eastern Province to scale up access to family planning, develop a complete antenatal service package, offer improved support during childbirth, and expand services to prevent serious obstetric complications. The goal was to reduce the number of women dying from preventable complications during childbirth, and improve the survival of children younger than five years of age.

EGPAF supported MCDMCH in training health care workers in the use of RST kits, as well as procuring and distributing 3,600 tests to 38 health facilities. On May 19, the team trained 23 health workers drawn from 23 health facilities and four officers from the district office. Throughout the week, EGPAF staff and officers from MCDMCH provided on-site training in using the RST) and provided the test kits to 15 additional health facilities, bringing the total number of facilities that received RST kits to 38. It is hoped that the trained district staff will now roll-out RST to the remaining eight health centers in the district.

On May 22, the EGPAF team attended a stakeholders planning meeting at the Provincial Health Office (PHO), chaired by Provincial Medical Officer (PMO) Dr. Mwaba, to discuss Safe Motherhood Week and plan for the launch. Dr. Mwaba shared his joy that RSTs had finally gotten to Chipata, and he hoped that it would soon be made available to all the districts in the province.

The team conducted a two-day orientation course for local chiefs on Safe Motherhood, as the chiefs play an important role in championing change in the community. A member of the EGPAF team attended the training to learn more about working with the chiefs, while the rest of the team continued with on-site RST orientations and support.
On May 25, CARMMA was officially launched at the Chipata Golf Grounds. A number of cooperating partners displayed their various products and EGPAF provided RST services right inside the Mobile Hospital Unit, testing 80 clients (six tested positive for syphilis).

After the launch, MCDMCH Minister, Dr. Joseph Katema, toured the Golf Grounds to view the various services on display. He told the EGPAF team that he had heard about RST and was happy with the technological advancements that were making syphilis screening easier and more efficient.

Health workers in Chipata were excited to learn more about RST, especially those who found the previous testing procedures to be tedious.  They had no difficulties in learning how to perform the test. The Provincial and District Health offices embraced the test kits and were very supportive.

Overall, the trip was a success, and we look forward to receiving a full report on the number of pregnant women and their partners that were tested during the week.

Anne Phiri is a nurse working with the Foundation in Zambia. Alexander Ncube is Project Coordinator for the Foundation, based in Zambia.