WaterAid officials took the Sleepover Challenge at Ntchisi District Hospital on Friday. However, their arrival coincided with the death of a 38-year-old woman who earlier in the day had a premature birth at home.
According to the hospital’s safe motherhood coordinator Masuzgo Muyila, the deceased had given birth at around 4pm that day, but her relatives did not take her to the hospital in time.
“By the time she got to the hospital, she had lost a lot of blood. We tried our best to save her life, but we could not. But the baby survived,” she explained.
The health care official, however, said maternal deaths—currently at one per month—are not common at the hospital, owing to safe motherhood initiatives, including a requirement for every expectant woman, in her eight month, to go and wait at the hospital.
“The challenge might be the environment at the hospital. We usually have 90-105 women in a ward meant to accommodate 32. So, some women prefer to stay at home and come to the hospital when labour starts, because here they would be sleeping on the floor, for instance,” Muyila explained.
Lis Parham, senior partnership communications officer for Water Aid United Kingdom, and Elizabeth McKernan, development manager for Water Aid Scotland took their turn on the challenge at Ntchisi District Hospital, in the company of Water Aid Malawi country director Mercy Masoo and five other female staff.
When they arrived at around 5.30pm, it was clear that there
was no power. Hospital officials confirmed that power went out about 12 hours earlier—at around five in the morning.
The night progressed and there was no power in sight, forcing the hospital to use a standby generator, which consumes about 20 litres per hour.
“We got here in the night and the first thing we noticed was that there was no power, there was a blackout. We could not really appreciate the condition that the hospital was in and it was only this morning we could see how bad the situation really was.
“And, so, coming from a Wash [Water Sanitation and Hygiene] background, I was keeping an eye out for water sanitation and hygiene issues at the hospital. I could not help but notice that power is a major issue as well. So, it is not the focus of WaterAid, but it is another basic service that is lacking in the health care facility,” explained McKernan.
As they moved around the hospital in darkness, the generator failed and there was a premature baby who needed oxygen, but the oxygen machine was not working.
“We could see that the baby’s oxygen levels were dropping and the hospital staff were trying as much as they could to reconnect the oxygen machine. Thankfully, they succeeded, but the baby was at least 10 minutes without the oxygen machine. So, obviously, that is a big issue at the hospital. I do not think you would have these issues in a private hospital.
So, it is obvious that the public facilities are chronically lacking investment,” she observed.
The district health officer Dr Zondwayo Ng’oma said the facility needs a fuel-efficient generator, among other things, because the generator they have is only used for the maternity wing’s operating theatre and the neonatal unit.
“Practitioners are forced to use phones to put drips or when resuscitating patients. And neonatal deaths usually happen when we have blackouts,” he said.
McKernan also bemoaned the lack of good latrines at the hospital.
“They do not have a decent to go to the toilet and practice good hygiene issues and I am really concerned how we are going to reach everyone everywhere by the year 2030 if these women are left behind. How is Malawi going to reach goal three and six of the Sustainable Development Goals if we forget about these women?” she wondered.
All in all, McKernan was pleased that WaterAid Malawi has joined the challenge to help to improve Wash in healthcare facilities in the country.
“We came here because WaterAid is supporting Mother’s Fun Run, and I really wanted to take part in the Sleepover Challenge, so that I could see first-hand the real challenges women are facing in Malawi. It is clear that WaterAid are making a long-term commitment until all healthcare facilities have met required Wash standards,” she said.