Getting into the maternity ward at Chilomoni Health Centre in Blantyre last week, her attention was drawn to a woman close to the entrance.
Under the mosquito net, the woman, loosely covering her body with a wrapper, tossed and turned in her bed. She could care less about the strangers that had just invaded her space.
She was in labour. In that moment Teresa Ndanga, Media Institute of Southern Africa (Misa) chairperson was reminded of her own labour experience six years ago.
“I was in extreme pain and could not lie still. I had hours to go before my baby arrived. It was an answer I didn’t want to hear that night and it became the most excruciating 16 hours of my life,” recalls Ndanga.
She and two others, Winnie Botha from Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) and Capital FM’s Wezzie Nyirongo had taken up the sleepover challenge, an initiative aimed at raising funds for the 2017 Mother’s Fun Run in support of safe motherhood.
The sleepover challenge, an initiative under Nation Publications Limited (NPL), was designed for women executives to appreciate the challenges and harsh realities mothers face in public hospitals as a way of raising awareness.
As someone who has reported on maternal health, Botha said she appreciated the challenges faced by both health practitioners and women in public hospitals.
“Some expectant women walk long distances to get to the nearest health facility only to be welcomed by the shortage of resources. And that shortage is not just in typical rural areas; in Blantyre almost all health centers lack basic equipment,” she noted.
In her Chilomoni Health Centre experience, she could not help, but notice a hardworking nurse; alone on night duty without a clinician on call.
“She was monitoring 15 women in the pre-natal ward and five of them in labour. That night she delivered three babies. She had to monitor these women now and then, while others walked in during the night, also requiring her attention.
“In the labour ward, there were three unsuitable beds and mattresses. It was shocking to see ante-natal and post-natal cases admitted in one ward, making it too small. They need space to split the two cases,” she observed.
Blantyre district health officer Dr. Medson Matchaya acknowledged that Blantyre has a number of challenges because the present facilities were designed to cater for half the current population of the city.
“Blantyre has over 1.4 million people for facilities that were meant for about half the population. In some areas around Blantyre, women walk 10 kilometres to get to the nearest hospital. There is need to increase the numbers of health facilities,” he said.
The three women represented a grouping christened Women in Media.
In Blantyre alone, an average of 48 mothers and 648 babies die annually due to delivery related complications as per United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) 2016 data findings.