She wanted to have a feel of the challenges pregnant women in Malawi face when accessing health care. She could have done this by just visiting a maternity section at one of the hospitals in the country.
But that is not what she did. Instead, British High Commissioner Holly Tett left the comfort of her diplomatic home in Lilongwe to spend a night at Limbe Health Centre maternity section in Blantyre.
“I am really privileged to be placed to Malawi to be the UK representative here and I think it is really important that I don’t sit behind my desk in Lilongwe, I don’t just talk to elites and I just don’t listen to reports from my staff about what’s going on.
“I need to be out there and see with my own eyes what is happening in Malawi and understanding what challenges that Malawians face. So, I want to get out and see what is happening in the country,” she said.
Arriving at the facility around 7.18pm on Wednesday to take part in the sleepover challenge in support of Nation Publications Limited (NPL) Mother’s Day Fun Run, Tett only carried her mat and mosquito repellent. She had neither a blanket nor a pillow.
On arrival, Tett was welcomed by Limbe Police Station officer-in-charge Deputy Commissioner Brenant Chitanda and his officers, NPL deputy chief executive officer Alfred Ntonga and Blantyre district health officer (DHO) Dr Medson Matchaya.
She was then taken on a mini-tour of the labour and the post-natal wards where she interacted with new mothers, pregnant women, guardians as well as medics who were on duty.
“For staying a night in the clinic, I am not worried. At least, I am not in labour, so it is a lot easier for me than to some of these women I think,” said Tett, adding: “I am really excited to talk to the women and medical staff, to hear about their stories, to see and understand some of the challenges and to really understand what the picture is here in order to find a way of addressing the challenges.”
Tett, a mother of four—a boy and three girls—took interest in the women she found at the facility asking the new mothers their childbirth experiences. Most of them shared their painful experiences and how they were happy when they saw their babies.
She told them she went through the same experience but, the only difference being she gave birth in a good environment.
“I had a lot of space and privacy. My room was as big as the size of this ward that all of you are sharing and I had my own bathrooms,” she said referring to the ward which had 53 women, with sharing beds and others sleeping on mattresses that were laid on the floor.
When she stopped to interact with one new mother in the ward, Tett asked her the name of her baby. When the mother said she had not named the baby yet, the high commissioner said “My name is Holly, you can name her Holly.” And the mother smiled and accepted to name her baby after Tett.
After interacting with the women, Tett also interacted with Matchaya and the nurses at the facility. Tionge Mwangonde, the health centre’s maternity section nurse in-charge, told her that nurses of the night shift, which started at 5pm, had already delivered three babies. The time was 8.17pm.
Mwangonde told her that the night looked like a busy one, because, apart from delivering three babies in the first three and a half hours of the shift, there were also some mothers who were experiencing labour pains.
When Tett asked her if she can name only one wish for the health centre, Mwangonde said: “Expansion of the facility.”
“We are able to help them deliver safely. The only challenge is lack of space. The labour ward can only accommodate three beds but due to demand, we had to squeeze in a fourth bed.
“The case is the same with the postnatal ward. Its capacity is 10 patients, but we accommodate over 50 patients. Toilets and bathrooms are even worse, we only have one each for all these women,” said Mwangonde.
According to Matchaya, designs are already there for the facility’s expansion which was put at a K55 million budget. He said, in the expansion plans, the postnatal ward is expected to have 60 beds and the labour ward six beds.
“This facility serves a catchment of 200 000 people. This is the first health centre of the 27 centres that we have in Blantyre which serves a large number of people. It surpasses some of the district hospitals that we have too. That is why we are thinking of expanding it,” said Matchaya.
Then, it was time for her to take her challenge. When Matchaya offered her a bed in the antenatal ward, Tett declined saying it was better the bed be given to one of the pregnant women sleeping on the floor, she would sleep on her mat. Harriet Mapata, personal assistant to NPL CEO Mbumba Banda, was there to keep her company and help her interact with the women without language barriers.
In an interviewed yesterday afternoon, Tett said she was glad she took the challenge. She enjoyed it and was impressed with how pregnant women were giving birth calmly in the middle of the night.