By Isaac Salima:
Until last month, the family of Khongwe from Chigumula Township in Blantyre had been anxiously waiting for a new baby in the family.
The morning of Tuesday April 27 2021, was just like any other morning for Bertha Khongwe, the mother of the house. As an expectant woman with an advanced pregnancy, she was counting down to labour call until the hour had to come later in the morning.
She delivered a baby boy. The joy of an additional child into the family outweighed the disappointment that had come following a non-answered prayer for a baby girl.
The family already has three boys.
The new baby’s path into the world was not all that smooth as Bertha had delivered at her home in Makhilinga Village in Traditional Authority Machinjiri. She did not go to the hospital reportedly for fear of catching the coronavirus.
Due to delivery complications, she started breeding until she was taken to Bangwe Health Centre.
According to the deceased’s aunt, Jennifer Clemence, when they arrived at the facility her condition was not good and nurses just called for an ambulance from Blantyre District Health Office so that she can be referred to Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital.
“The ambulance arrived and because it was at a peak hour when people were knocking off from their work, we were caught in traffic around Limbe. Worse still, the vehicle had a faulty siren and the driver could not hoot to be given way,” Clemence says.
As this was happening, Clemence says, Bertha’s condition was getting once.
“When we arrived at the hospital, she was treated for some time before she breathed her last,” the aunt says.
She confesses that the deceased was afraid of catching Covid at the hospital, hence the decision to deliver at home.
“We have been hearing of the pandemic and she was afraid of going to the hospital. I have even been reluctant to go to the hospital since the outbreak got to Malawi,” Clemence says.
The husband, Grant Khongwe, says he is devastated by the loss of his wife. He is visibly heartbroken with the unexpected death, more so as he will have to take the responsibility of taking care of three children and the newborn left behind by his mother.
He says he never anticipated that their 10-year-old marriage journey could come to an end in such a tragic manner.
“I did not expect this. I am really finding it difficult to come to terms that my wife is gone for good,” Khongwe says.
He does not want to talk about why he did not take his wife to the hospital to deliver under professional care, saying he suspects other people had a hand in the death.
“It is difficult to understand how she died. Something could have happened and only God knows,” the subsistence farmers says.
Flanked by two of his sons, he looked uncomfortable to discuss what led to the death of his wife. He simply does not want to be reminded about the death.
The people that gathered at his house to mourn the passing of his wife have now left. He will have to cope with the reality of being the only parent to the helpless children.
The coming in of Covid has had disastrous effects in many sectors of life. However, misconceptions about the pandemic seem to take centre stage.
Until Bertha’s death, many had not imagined that the misconceptions about the pandemic could reach the extent of costing a life.
Blantyre District Medical Officer Mirrium Nyasulu described Bertha’s death as unfortunate. She further urged pregnant women to always deliver at the hospital.
“Her death cannot be attributed to us. Of course, we can admit that our ambulance had a faulty siren but the death could have been avoided if the woman was brought to us in good time.
“I urge people to get rid of the misconceptions about Covid as we always take necessary measures in preventing patients from catching the virus,” Nyasulu said.
Recently, the government expressed worry over the continued misconceptions on the pandemic, saying they have resulted in reduced numbers of pregnant women that are accessing quality health care.
Special Adviser to the President on Safe Motherhood, Dorothy Ngoma, recently said data collected from 26 districts in the past 10 months had shown that at least 60 percent of mothers and children shunned health facilities for fear of catching the disease.
“I have noted that, in maybe 90 percent of the districts, the maternal mortality rate is getting higher. They have lost a bit more women in the past 10 months than they lost in the past,” she said.
The government recently allocated special funds for community engagement to raise awareness about the disease.
Minister of Civic Education and National Unity, Timothy Mtambo, admitted about the information gap about the disease and promised that officials would reach every corner of the country with the messages.
He further urged Malawians to seriously take messages about the disease as they will be at the receiving end if they choose to ignore the same.
As some people have been of the view that it is waste of resources to allocate funds to sensitisation campaigns about the pandemic, Bertha’s death justifies why this area needs not to be ignored.