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Zimbabwe newborn deaths inquiry called for

More than 21 newborn babies died in five months at a camp for people made homeless by government shanty town clearing in 2005, Amnesty International said.

The UK based rights group today called for an investigation into the deaths, at Hopley Farm, about six miles south of the capital, Harare.

The babies’ mothers, who live in shacks, thought their babies died because of a lack of health care and cold temperatures.

When people were settled in Hopley, the government promised them a better life but things have gone from bad to worse,” said Amnesty’s Michelle Kagari.

About 700,000 people were left homeless in 2005, when the southern African country’s President Robert Mugabe’s government carried out Operation Murambatsvina, which translates as ‘no tolerance for dirt’. The authorities said it was aimed at curbing crime and disease in city shanty towns.

The victims of Operation Murambatsvina have been forgotten by the government and, five years after losing their homes and livelihoods, their situation continues to deteriorate,” said Ms Kagari.

Women living in Hopley which has about 5,000 residents, said they know fully how important maternal and newborn healthcare is, and many had been given such care during previous pregnancies before they arrived at Hopley. But many women there can’t afford the £30 the government demands for antenatal care, because they lost their livelihoods when their homes and markets were destroyed, Amnesty said.

The government must ensure these women have access to maternal and newborn health care in order to prevent further avoidable deaths,” said Amnesty’s report, No Chance to Live, Newborn death at Hopley Settlement, out today.

Harare only has three working ambulances for about two million people. Many private ambulances and drivers will not go into Hopley for fear of crime, especially at night.

In February this year, Megan, 40, gave birth to twin boys prematurely at about midnight and could not get transport to the maternity clinic. The babies were delivered in her shack. Both the babies died while she was on her way to the clinic the next morning.

"Limited access to health services is one of the causes of the high levels of newborn deaths at Hopley,” said Ms Kagari. “Low cost interventions and basic healthcare could save young lives as well as those of their mothers.

The Zimbabwean authorities have failed to monitor the health situation at Hopley. They must act immediately to combat the rate of newborn deaths revealed by Amnesty International’s investigation.

Hayley attribution