After attending her Public Accounts and Budget Committee cluster meeting in Lilongwe on Friday, Ntcheu Bwanje North legislator, Nancy Chaola returned home to taste what expectant women go through at Bwanje Health Centre.
She left Lilongwe for Ntcheu at 6pm to participate in this year’s sleepover challenge as the first female lawmaker.
What welcomed the honourable member and the Nation Publications Limited (NPL) crew accompanying her, was the sight of women sleeping on the verandah of health centre. But the visitors thought the women were merely outside to catch a cool breeze, which was not the case.
“This is where we sleep. All the guardians and expectant women sleep here, there is neither an ante-natal ward nor a guardian shelter here,” said 22-year-old Suzan Makwinja from Chintama Village in Traditional Authority (T/A) Ganya, who is expecting a child.
With a catchment of over 33 000 people, Bwanje Health Centre, which is 75 kilometres from the district hospital, records 80 births in a month, using a single bed in a makeshift post-natal ward.
Besides not having an ante-natal ward or a guardian shelter, the Under-Fives section has also been turned into a guardians’ kitchen.
The health centre’s in-charge, Stephen Mpekanjira, described the situation as bad, and said sometimes they appreciate why some women opt to deliver at home.
“I cannot imagine my own sisters or wife going through that. It is not even safe sleeping outside. The situation is even worse when it is raining, they have to stand until the rain stops, it is not good for an expectant woman,” he said.
Surprisingly, the facility has unfinished buildings meant to be the postnatal, labour and antenatal wards, and a guardian shelter. The visiting crew learnt that these structures were abandoned and nobody knows when they will be completed.
According to Mpekanjira, in 2016 the health centre saw commencement of construction works of the wards and a guardian shelter through KFW and German government’s Result-Based Financing (RBF) programme, but the project was abandoned in 2018.
“It’s a central government issue. We just know that there were misunderstandings with the contractor and the funders, so now there is nothing happening,” he said.
After sleeping over at the health centre, Chaola could not hold her tears, and said the experience was a life-challenge.
“It is sad. I was crying in my heart. A hospital is supposed to provide comfort, especially to pregnant women. This is not safe; imagine sleeping on the verandah and standing until the rain stops, when it rains, this is really sad,” she said.
She added: “I will make sure to lobby for funds for this. Before coming to sleep over, I planned to contribute K1 million, but with the situation I have seen, there is more I need to do. It’s really sad. My plea to fellow female MPs is for them to go to their constituencies and experience the agony of women, and help.”
Before leaving the place, Chaola had breakfast with the women, and gave them soap, sugar, cooking oil, soya pieces, other assorted items as well as some cash.
Through the annual Mother’s Fun Run, under which the sleepover challenge initiative falls, NPL mobilises partners and well-wishers to raise funds and awareness towards improving safe motherhood in the country’s public health facilities.
This year, beneficiaries of the Mother’s Fun Run are Ntcheu and Likoma district hospitals. The event has run for 16 years and most of the district hospitals and their satellite medical facilities have been assisted in acquiring modern medical equipment and supplies.