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Friday 29 June 2019 afforded me a noble opportunity to fufil my acceptance of the Nation Publications Sleepover Challenge at Likoma Health Centre. The Nkhata Bay - Likoma Island lake journey to raise funds for Safe Motherhood Initiative was an assignment that left me with a very broken spirit. Truth be told, this was the most heart rending trip I have ever experienced in a long time. An adventure of its own horror, but eye opener on the pains experienced by mothers and their newly-born babies stranded on a land surrounded by waters.

The Boat ride and welcome at the dock - mmmhh a story for another day titled ‘Living at Likoma Island - the Hawaii of Malawi (or is it, or can it be?)’

The first mainland referral health facility from the Island is Nkhata Bay District Hospital, only 70 Kilometres away crossing the turbulent waters on Lake Malawi .... & yet it took us over 2 hours to reach our destination. Other smaller engine boats take 10 hours or more! Narration of my ordeal may read like thriller notes scribbled hurriedly until one wakes up to reality accepting facts of real life.

We arrived to an atmosphere that was tangibly unwelcome. With the MV Ilala not sailing, people on the island could not understand why the ‘relied upon’ 100-seat capacity Chilembwe ship, after having been away for a 5 week service, came with just a handful strange faces whose mission none of the onlooker knew of, with explicit instructions not to carry any passengers to/from the island. After almost an hour of briefing them of our good intention, we were allowed to proceed from the beach to the Health Centre which services a population of 17,000 islanders with additional numbers from neighbouring Mozambique.

We were warmly welcomed by the DHO and the health personnel who despite being few, are very dedicated amidst the harsh and adverse circumstances that compromise the professional execution of their duties. I whispered to a colleague that working at that centre was a calling for those medical staff and this needed the support from different corners of the country.

There has been no incubator for over 10 years - something I cannot comprehend. How many premature babies have died for lack of such an important equipment? No scanning machine, no BP monitors (the one they use is for the male ward) etc.

The maternal ward itself can only host 6 beds. And this caters for the pre-natal, post-natal cases (both normal and caesarean), with their guardians! Surely with the population census now around 17,000 something needs to be done to expand the space?

On bed 6 I noticed a woman who was extremely quiet. As I engaged with her, her guardian told me that she has an operation but lost her baby.  My heart bled. The constricted space made her endure her pain of losing her baby plus the operation pain, in the midst of others who are rejoicing. I can imagine what the sound of the cries of the other babies was doing to her! We hugged each other tears were streaming down our cheeks and as I prayed that the Lord will heal her physically and emotionally, my mind went into an overdrive - how much would it cost to extend this building so it gives space to such a mother to grieve in the vicinity of her space without being reminded what it would have been to hold a baby in her arms? After all, it was not her fault that the baby died!

The labour ward has what I describe as 1.5 beds because the one bed is literally steadied using stones (courtesy of staff ingenuity); trying to make things work under very difficult circumstances. There was 1 woman from Mozambique whose labour had started around 9pm. From my ‘make shift bed’ (the cement bench outside the ward), around 3 a.m. I could hear the moaning coming from the labour ward. Upon enquiry, I was told there was no labour progression and they were proceeding to prepare for an operation. I could see that she was in deep pain, her waters broke, and the place was spoiled. In the height of pain, she would change her position from sleeping to squatting. That is when I noticed that of the 2 windows in the room, only 1 had a curtain. Upon enquiry, I was told that the curtain had been washed that day and they do not have a spare one. Now stay with me for a moment - there is this woman, deep into labour, and as she tries to make herself comfortable by squatting on the bed, she puts herself at a vulnerable position where people outside can see what is happening.... isn’t that demeaning? Can’t a set of curtains be found at least?

Fast forward, the Lord intervened and a baby boy was born normally about 30 minutes later to which we all rejoiced..... but wait, the rejoicing wasn’t for long because the guardian started preparing to go to the lake (some few kilometres from the hospital) to wash ‘the soiled zitenjes’. When I asked why, I was informed that there is no water at the hospital - hey! This is because of the intermittent supply of power to pump the water, coupled with old dilapidated pipes. I could not believe my ears! Then I remembered that earlier on one nurse literally pouring out water from a cup on the anaethestic assistant’s hands. That meant the mother’s right to clean herself after giving birth was denied .... what a shock! All she needed was a simple cleaning, but there was no water!

That meant, some of us had to do ‘passport size’ cleaning up using the bottled water we had brought along for us to ensure that we look nice and fresh in the morning before we go to the lake for now not a leisurely swim, but an actual bath!

Likoma was an eye opener. I am even more than determined to alleviate the suffering and public embarrassment the mothers are facing at the Health Centre. I definitely know of companies that sponsor e.g. sporting tournaments through their corporate social responsibilities. I am not saying this is wrong, but surely there is absolutely nothing amiss in sponsoring a life. Mothers bring life and for that they must be accorder the highest dignity in that noble task.

The Likoma stopover is a quest to complement Nation Publications Limited (NPL) Annual Safe Motherhood Initiatives which this year has targeted K300 million to energise Safe Motherhoood programmes in Ntcheu and Likoma Districts. In this regard, I am grateful to MASM for the K500,000 sponsorship to NPL and the 40 pieces of cloth I distributed to the Likoma maternity & children’s wards, as well as their guardians and hospital staff.


I leave you with a scripture from 1 John 3:17 - But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him?

Send your contributions to either of the following accounts:

NPL Sleepover Challenge Account Standard Bank, Capital City, Account No. 9100001290409
NPL Sleepover Challenge Account National Bank, Account No. 1004914208



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