They hold high positions in society; they are high class and inspire many. Five female executives recently left their cozy homes, comfortable beds and sacrificed family time to suffer with the vulnerable in an effort to raise funds that will change the plight of many expectant mothers. Because of poor conditions of many public hospitals and health centres, expectant women are subjected to atrocious experiences. Precious Kumbani and Brenda Twea spoke to these women on what inspired them to undertake the sleepovers.
NPL Chief Executive officer Mbumba Banda, FINCA Chief Finance Officer Victoria Kalua, Zilani Khonje, Communications and Outreach Director for Millennium Challenge Account – Malawi, Clara Mwafulirwa from the Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority (Macra) and Vera Kantukule from Malawi Scotland Partnership slept at Zingwangwa, Ndirande and Limbe health centres in Blantyre to raise funds for the promotion of safe motherhood in support of this year’s Mothers Fun Run event slated for October 7.
Organiser of the annual event, Nation Publications Limited (NPL), strives to raise K150 million to be used for procurement of equipment for maternity wings at Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital (QECH) in Blantyre and 23 health centres in the district. What were their experiences like?
It was at around 6:30pm on Saturday when Banda walked to Ndirande Health Centre maternity wing, carrying a light blanket and bed sheet, she looked eager and excited for the sleep over. She said in an interview that she decided to participate to inspire more women to join the initiative. Welcomed by Blantyre District Health Officer Dr Medson Matchaya, Banda could not wait for an interactive chat with mothers in the wing.
“My intention is not to sleep, but to observe so that where there are shortfalls, we can see what is needed,” she said.
Looking at the dilapidated structure that ushers new life into the world, Banda said she realised there was a lot to be done. She visited the postnatal ward where she chatted with mothers. There were eight mothers and eight babies while two other mothers waited in the antenatal ward for their time to deliver. The labour ward was empty by then.
Sharing her experience, Banda hinted that unless the issue of population against the size of health centres is looked at critically and holistically, the challenges are likely to continue.
“Hospitals meant to cater for smaller numbers of people are having to cater for huge numbers. There is a lack of space and manpower to handle the demand. Facilities are being over used and due to pressure, most equipment does not last.”
Banda commended staff at the centre: “It is always heartwarming to see staff working positively amid all challenges. I am always thankful to see that despite challenges, people come to work every day, try to do what they can to help the patients. I think the rest of us need to build on that.”
The NPL CEO has already raised K450 000 from individuals. She says she is not yet targeting institutions and hopes to hit a million by October 7.
Kalua and Khonje spent a night at Limbe Health Centre.
“I believe I am responsible to bring about that change by taking part in such initiatives. Time has come for us to take responsibility for issues that affect us and not wait for foreign donor community to bring about the change we want to see,” said Kalua.
She recounted: “My daughter was born at 28 weeks and at 1kg, it was a frightening situation, she was born outside the country and due to good medical facilities in the public hospital, she was given very good treatment. Then some six years ago, I was at Queens visiting someone. I came across a woman that was referred from Lirangwe Health Centre who had girl twins at 28 weeks.
“I noted that they were not being put in the incubator and when I asked why, I was told that because of lack of facilities, the babies were considered “not viable” because they needed to use the incubator continuously. My heart bled for that woman to think she was going to lose her babies. It made me realise there was something I can do to change the situation. Even though my cause is not directly linked to premature babies, I believe it’s a contribution towards saving a life. There is a saying that says: “The greatest gift you can receive, is another day of life.”
Commenting on the condition in the labour ward, Kalua said the fact that the women were delivering on their zitenjes meant the environment was unhygienic and both the mother and child were at risk of contracting infectious diseases.
“I have read about the challenges women face in public hospitals and I wanted to experience them. This gave me the chance to interact with nurses and women and get more information on the major problems they face in public hospitals,” she stated.
Khonje said information gathered would be used to advocate for change and fight for women’s rights.
She encouraged women to be part of the initiative and take part in fighting for women’s rights.
She described her experience as an eye opener and ‘depressing’.
During that night, five babies were born in what the two described as ‘horrific and pathetic environment’.
An average of 15 to 17 babies are born at the facility per day out of which 10 babies are born during the night in most cases. Two nurses are entrusted to do all the work each night.
In solidarity, Khonje and Kalua slept at the maternity wing veranda as there was no space for them inside.
By that time, Khonje had already raised K430 000 in pledges and cash while Victoria had already beaten the minimum of K200 000 set by NPL for any participating woman in the sleep over challenge.
A mother of three, Mwafulirwa feels for other mothers going through a wide range of challenges in public health centres to bring children into the world. She was appalled with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) 2016 figures that indicate that in Blantyre alone, an average of 48 mothers and 648 babies die annually due to delivery-related complications.
Her dream is to see a situation where all mothers enjoy giving birth no matter where they are.
She imagines herself as a pregnant mother sleeping on the floor and having no privacy as was the case at Zingwangwa Health Centre and she gets saddened. She says she felt good to have participated in the NPL sleepover challenge.
“Interacting with the mothers at the health centre was phenomenal. It was exciting to still see a mother’s smile on her face after giving birth despite all the challenges,” she says.
She also noted that expectant women at the health centre lack many things to make their stay comfortable as they await the arrival of their babies, citing, for instance the need for proper curtains in the labour ward for privacy; toilets for the maternity ward as the current one is not working which compels the women to use an open ground, among other things.
Apart from that, Mwafuliwa observed that the hospital staff need heavy gloves and gumboots to cushion themselves from infections; a constant supply of Chlorine for the mopping of floors.
Born in Blantyre at Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital, Vera Kamtukule is the third born in a family of six children. She participated in the sleepover initiative at Zingwangwa Health Centre as a way of giving back to the clinic for giving her the most delicious porridge she ever had back when she was younger.
Kamtukule, who along with her counterpart Mwafulirwa, at some point during the sleepover night had to give up their beds for the expectant mothers to use, even helped in delivering babies as there was only one nurse on duty that night.
“There was only one health worker, an amazing woman who does her work with so much passion despite all that the health centre lacks to make her job easier,” said Kamtukule while confessing that she was not prepared for what she saw.
Admitting that she would never be the same again after that experience, she too stated that there are a lot of things that need to be done for the health centre, including beds, which she noticed are not enough for the many women that flock to the health centre for deliveries.
“Apart from that, for lack of fetoscopes, the nurses use stethoscopes even for monitoring the baby’s heartbeat, which can be misleading, as the mother’s heart beat can be mistaken for the baby’s.
“There is also need for cotton wool supplies. Most mothers resort to using ragged pieces of cloth after having their babies, because there is no cotton wool,” said Kamtukule while confessing that her life will never be the same again having gone through that experience.
She said she would be happy if these efforts influenced some public policy change to ensure that the public health facilities operate smoothly and that no mothers are dying or losing their children in child birth.
On their part, Mwafulirwa and Kamtukule the first to take up the challenge on August 25 have managed to raise over K600 000.
Blantyre District Health Officer (DHO) Medson Matchaya commended the women for their dedication and appealed for more support.
“We have been trying to look for partners particularly in the private sector, but they have not been forthcoming. Women are very compliant in looking for service delivery by skilled personnel, but the conditions are not conducive. However, this is not deliberate. We are trying our best,” he said.
Since 2005, NPL has been conducting the Mothers’ Day Fun Run project as a social responsibility to enable organisations and individuals to contribute directly towards improved maternal health.
Last year, the initiative raised an impressive K77, 039,400 which was used to purchase medical equipment for Mzimba District Hospital and its peripherals”