On Tuesday 14 August 2007, in the afternoon, we were travelling to ChieftainessMwape’s area in Nyimba. The Palace is about 60km from the boma. After we had driven for about 23 km we met three women who were going in our direction, on foot. One of them was carrying a small baby wrapped in a chitenge, in her arms. It looked like they were coming from delivering the baby. The other two women were carrying some luggage. All of them looked tired.

We stopped to give them a lift. Once they were inside the vehicle, we immediately engaged them in a discussion. They told us that they were coming from Nyimba District Hospital and were going back to their village. The youngest woman among them was the mother of the baby. The other two elderly women were her mother and her mother-in-law respectively. The young woman, 21 years of age, had given birth to the baby in the village on 3 August 2007. It was a baby boy. Six days later, precisely on 9 August, they decided to take her to the hospital because she had continuous stomach pains from the time she had given birth.

The women came from Alefa Village, in ChieftainessMwape’s area. This village was more than 25 km from Nyimba District Hospital. We asked them how they managed to travel to Nyimba with the sick mother and a six-day-old baby. They told us that they had carried the sick mother on a bicycle, while the other two just walked.

They said that, however, the bicycle later broke down before they reached the hospital, and the sick mother had to be helped to walk the rest of the way in her pain.

She was admittedin hospital for four days and was discharged on 13 August 2007. However, as they had to go back to their village on foot, they decided to spend the night of 13 August at the hospital so that they could start off early in the morning the following day.

The time we met them on their way to the village, they had already walked for more than 23 km. We gave them a lift only for the last two to three kilometres.

We proceeded with the rest of our journey, which was now about 35 km away. We arrived at the Palace around 16 Hours. We stayed there for more than two hours, and left just after 18.30 hours, after having our royal dinner.

As we left the Palace, we decided not to drive back to Nyimba. That 60 km stretch from ChaiftenessMwape to Nyimbaboma was just a semblance of a road, and therefore not safe to drive on it in the night. We therefore decided to drive to Petauke, which was about 78 km away.

After driving for about 20 km from the Palace, we were in an area called Chinsimbwe. We found three women by the roadside. They asked for a lift to Petauke. Immediately they got into the vehicle, we engaged them in a discussion. They told us that they were from Kuta Village.One of them was a 23 year-old woman. She was expecting. The other two elderly ones were her mother and mother-in-law respectively.

They told us that they were going to Minga Mission Hospital because the pregnant mother was due to deliver any time. They said that they decided to go and stay at the hospital so that when her labour startsthey would already be in the premises. That was her fourth pregnancy, at 23 years old.

Minga Mission Hospital was about 33 km from Petaukeboma. We arrived in Petauke around 21.00 Hours. The women told us to leave them at the bus station. They said that they were going to spend a night there, and the following day walk to Minga Mission Hospital, using a short-cut, bush paths. We asked them how long it was going to take them to reach Minga Mission Hospital from the bus station in Petauke. They told us that when they start offearly in the morning, they would arrive towards the end of the day, as they would be walking slowly.

I wondered whether I was going to enjoy my sleep, in a bed, spending money at alodge or guesthouse,after leaving anexpecting mother at the bus station to spend a night there, when she was due to deliver any time. I wondered what would happen if her labour started in the night at the bus station. I thought to myself that there was even a possibility of delivering her baby in the bush on the way to Minga Mission.

The thought of the mother delivering at the station, or in the bush as she walked to Minga, troubled my conscience. We thus decided to drive the women in the night to Minga Mission Hospital and come back to sleep later on.

On our way, we asked them why they had decided to go to MingaMission Hospital instead of Petauke District Hospital, which was nearer. They told us that the service at the district hospital was very poor. They said that many times when people were sick and went to the hospital, they were not treated well. They said that the hospital had no drugs, and people were expected to go and buy their own drugs. They told us that pregnant mothers preferred to deliver either in the village or walk to Minga Mission Hospital, despite the long distance.

These were the two experiences we encountered in one day. This was more than fourteen (14) years ago.

However, not very long, precisely two (2) years ago, in 2019, there was a screaming headline on ZNBC, which went as follows:

“Births Outside Health Facility Worry First Lady”

And the news was reported as follows:

“First Lady Esther Lungu is concerned that some expectant mothers, especially in rural parts of the country, still deliver before they reach health centres.Mrs. Lungu notes that this in some cases leads to loss of life.

“Mrs Lungu said this when she met officials from the Ministry of Health at Kalindawalo rural health centre in Petauke district this morning shortly before handing over medical equipment and materials to the facility.The First Lady said the Esther Lungu foundation will remain committed to supplementing government efforts in the delivery of healthcare services.She also committed herself to rehabilitating the mother’s shelter at the facility.

“Earlier, Nurse in-charge, AinellyDaka, said the facility does not have a laboratory and noted that the health centre does not have adequate staff accommodation.”

(Reported by Joshua Jere, ZNBC, 9 December 2019)

What we witnessed in Nyimba and Petauke more thanfourteen (14) years ago is the same reality in Petauke, which the First Lady talked about two (2) years ago. There are many more of these experiences by many rural pregnant mothers in various parts of the country.

Why have the mothers of Zambia been subjected to such hardships when they are about to give birth to us their children. We wonder why close to sixty (60) years of independence, various governments have failed to provide maternal facilities throughout the country, including the remote rural areas.

What has been lacking all along has been the political decision to put money where it matters most. However, with the increase in the amount and scope of the Constituency Development Fund (CDF),selfless politicians have now made the right political decision.

Each constituency has been allocated in excess of twenty five million seven hundred and thirty nine kwacha (K25,739,910). Sixty per cent (60%) of this amount has been allocatedto community-based projects. 60% translates to fifteen million five hundred and thirteen thousand five hundred and fifty six kwacha (K15,513,556).

And who will decide which community projects to expend this money on?

It will be the members of the community themselves, represented by the Ward Development Committees (WDCs). The good part is that the mothers in the communities will be participating in the decisions of utilising the CDF.

It is our expectation that by the time the country turns 60 years of Independence in 2024, the lack of maternal health facilities in rural areas will be a thing of the past. Rural expectant mothers will no longer be giving birth to us their children outside health facilities.

About the author: Simon KaloloKabanda is a Human Rights and Development Consultant. He is also an analyst ofgovernance and socio-political developments

(If you have any socio-political question that you would like to be discussed on this column, kindly send a message to me either through sms, WhatsApp or email).

SIMON KALOLOKABANDA
Whatsapp: +260-761-206353
Email: shimwenya@gmail.com
31 January 2022