In the past, hospitals were very distant and means of transport were hard to find. Pregnant women were at risk of dying or miscarrying without prompt medical attention. But having a Traditional Birth Attendant (TBA) was a relief. Today they may have been banned but they still need to be recognised for the noble job they have undertaken. Here is the story of Femia Kazembe (Anaziya), who talked to Paida Mpaso.
Who is Anaziya Femia Kazembe?
I was born in 1938. I have one child. In my family, we were six children but now we are five. My mother was a housewife and my father was a clerk. I grew up in Chiradzulu. I did my school at Namaka Primary School. I stopped when I was in Standard Two. Since I could not continue with school I got married but got divorced. We were staying in Balaka, but I moved back to Chiradzulu with my child.
When did you start attending to pregnant women?
I started attending to pregnant women in 1966. I was working as a patient attendant at Chiradzulu Hospital. Then I did a one-year training in midwifery before being trained for a further two years by Dr Bolte. I donâ€™t remember where he was from, but he was a white man. In 1970, I resigned and started attending to these women from home. At first, women would hire me to help them deliver and I would travel long distances. But after some time, I started operating from home. Since I was recognised by the Ministry of Health, I was given the necessary tools to help in delivering babies. I also kept records of all the deliveries that I had done and the inspectors would look at the books for their record purposes.
How do you think you were performing?
My record book can testify that I was doing a very good job and that is why I kept on receiving so many clients.
Now that government wants traditional birth attendants to stop delivering babies, how has this affected you?
It has not been easy, as you can see I was born in 1936 and I have two grandchildren (who are my late brotherâ€™s) whom I am taking care of. It was through this that I was earning my living. It was unfair because I was trained by the hospital and not by my great grandmother. You can imagine I have been delivering babies from the 70s, which means I got established and people got used to me. They still come. Is government saying we should neglect these women? Despite the government ban, there are still some women who keep coming to me. But my hands are tied. Now I have no choice but to simply take them to the hospital.
How exactly does the ban break your heart?
During the colonial era, most TBAs would operate in secret. But when the late Ngwazi Kamuzu Banda came, he said outright that he was born through a TBA and there is no way he would deny them to work. So what he did was to simply train us and gave us all the necessary support. This was in 1982 and we were about nine of us. Whenever we had a woman in need, we would deliver them and call for an ambulance. Things went smoothly. But now it seems we are no longer needed, which is very unfortunate.
What else were you doing apart from delivering babies?
I did the whole antenatal training. I would use my hands to detect the position of the baby. If the baby is not in the right position, with my hands I would move the baby. If there are any anomalies, I would refer the mother to the hospital as soon as possible.
What kind of advice do you offer these women?
I have told the women to use mosquito nets when they are pregnant because malaria can cause still births and, of course, sexually transmitted diseases too.
Would you recall how many deliveries you have conducted?
I have recorded 1000 plus. Fortunately, as my records can show, I have registered very few deaths. Usually, these occurred because the women sought my assistance too late.
What are some of your memorable moments on the job as a TBA?
I enjoyed positive feedback from the women, and to some extent some women would actually choose me to deliver their babies. I knew that I was liked. I loved helping bring new life into this world. I was only charging K400 per delivery, anyway.
What has been your lowest moment?
Every time we lost a baby, I felt bad. It was not easy for the mother to deal with it. I really felt for her. The other lowest moment was when I heard that government had banned TBAs. This was the biggest blow for me. Women would come to me when the baby had already started popping out. It was too late for them to go to the hospital. I would make the toughest decision and went ahead to help. Up to now, I still believe government made a terrible choice in banning TBAs. I would have loved if government had selected the few TBAs, give them refresher courses and worked with them.
How far wide were you able to help?
Kachere alone has at least 10 villages. Apart from this place, women from surrounding places would also come.
Why did you get divorced?
Ever since I got married in 1966 my late husbandâ€™s relatives liked to speak ill of me and would do all kinds of things just to make my life miserable.
Did you re-marry?
I never saw the point. I stayed in Chiradzulu and took care of my child.
How was life after the marriage?
It was bad. I started selling some tomatoes and onions. But we still struggled. My ex-husband never helped my child. He had to go to school and I had to look for money. It later got to a point where I could not manage but to get a job. That is when I joined Chiradzulu Hospital.
How are you earning your living now?
Itâ€™s a real struggle to survive as I do not have something tangible to do. But it will be well.
What kind of clothes do you like?
I like traditional clothes.
What kind of food do you like?
I love traditional foods.Â