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Mother’s wrongful death

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A newborn baby’s best food is breast milk, health experts advise.

But this is not the case with Alefa Muhinji.

She is just a month old but Alefa is already on water and porridge.

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That is what her auntie, Lomazi Zimba, 42, can afford.

Unlike other babies of her age, Alefa has never tasted the breast of her mother, Falesi Phiri.

When I visited the baby in Group Village Head (GVH) Thomasi Muhinji in Traditional Authority Kampingo Sibande in Mzimba, the faces of many around her were downcast.

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Other natives were even shedding tears at the thought of Alefa’s plight.

I found her crying uncontrollably.

Family members could not at first explain anything on what happened; instead, they just took me to the graveyard where Alefa’s mother was buried.

Falesi died five hours after giving birth to Alefa at Chikangawa Health Centre on November 25, 2016.

Estere Nyirenda, who was her guardian, says Falesi bled profusely for five hours while waiting for an ambulance from Mzimba District Hospital.

Nyirenda believes Falesi died because of negligence by Mzimba District Hospital administration.

“She lost a lot of blood; we bought airtime and gave to the nurse to call for an ambulance because the nurse said the hospital had no airtime to call for an ambulance from Mzimba Boma. However, our efforts were in vain because when the ambulance got here, Nyaphiri [Falesi] had already died. The ambulance just carried the body,” says Nyirenda while plainly fighting back tears.

She adds: “We could not manage to get her into public transport while bleeding; we had no option apart from the ambulance. The nurse tried her best but she could not control the bleeding. We saw her taking her last breath.”

Idah Mboma, a nurse at Chikangwa Health Centre who delivered Alefa, also shares Nyirenda’s sentiments.

She says she reported about the complications at around 6: 00 am but the ambulance arrived at 11:15 am.

Mboma says up to this date she does not have an answer to how an ambulance can take four hours to cover a distance of 43 kilometres on tarmac road.

“The mother had a normal delivery but 15 minutes later she started bleeding extensively. Soon after she started bleeding, I called for ambulance from Mzimba Boma. No response was made. After I saw the delay and noticed that the woman is still bleeding uncontrollably, I reminded authorities about the ambulance for four times but the ambulance didn’t come. It was then sad that it arrived 15 minutes after Falesi died,” Mboma says.

The nurse further says most of the times the district hospital complains about underfunding, a development that cripples some of the services.

She says such cases rarely happened in the past when the hospital was receiving enough funding from the Ministry of Health.

District Health Officer for Nkhata Bay Albert Mkandawire corroborates Mboma’s view.

Mkandawire says hospitals are not getting enough funding because their budgets are cut from the normal proposed finances.

In Nkhata Bay, the development has led into the hospital owing some service providers over K100 million. Sheriffs have been impounding ambulances at the hospital many times.

The ministry through its Spokesperson Adrian Chikumbe acknowledges Nkhata Bay problem, adding that similar challenges are also in some few hospitals in the country.

Back to Chikangawa Health Centre, guardians I found at the maternity ward say it is very rare for an ambulance to come at the health facility despite being along the M1 Road.

One of the guardians Matrida Chiumia says most of the times patients use public transport whenever they are referred to Mzimba District Hospital despite being in a serious condition.

“It is very rare to see an ambulance here. Most of the times we use public transport to ferry critical patients to Mzimba Boma. If the guardian has no money for transport, then it becomes a big problem. We wait until the ambulance comes,” Chiumia says.

Councillor for the area Daniel Nyirenda says many people fail to access good health services.

“The health services in my area are so bad. Resources are very limited. Apart from untreated water which patients use because the hospital has no portable water for domestic use, transport is the major challenge. We rely on the ambulance from Mzimba District Hospital. However, people lost trust in it. It comes at intervals. This is a very serious problem and people need an ambulance here,” Nyirenda says.

Such cases are coming after Mzimba South registers two maternal deaths every month and 19 babies dying before reaching 28 days, according to a MamaYe report.

The report, which was released in June 2016, says the deaths are due to poor services at the main hospital and health centres because the hospital is underfunded. Ambulances were grounded because the hospital could not afford fuel.

In August, the number of babies was reduced to 16 while maternal deaths remained on two. This was after government increased their funding from then K3.6 million per month to K22 million.

Mzimba District Health Officer Lumbani Munthali asked for more time before responding to the recent case at Chikangawa, arguing his office is to liaise with other offices before official response.

“May you write us a questionnaire and we will respond upon the discussion with the office of Public Relations Officer. However, we will need more time before we respond officially,” Munthali said.

However, Munthali recently told The Daily Times that the hospital is currently getting their normal allocation from government and cases of maternal deaths will be a history. He said the hospital is able to get patients from all the 31 health centres under the hospital.

Mama Ye, an organisation which is fighting maternal deaths in Rumphi, Nkhata Day and Mzimba, doubts if Mzimba South has enough ambulances to cater for its booming population.

Mamaye Coordinator in the North Gladson Monjeza says, on separate interview, Mzimba District Hospital needs enough ambulances, funding and workforce if cases of maternal deaths and babies dying before reaching 28 days are to be a history.

But Minister of Health Peter Kumpalume says loss of life in a hospital is regrettable without looking at the cause of the death.

He says it is sad that some deaths come after negligence within the health sector.

“As the ministry, we are not ashamed with what happened at Chikangawa Health Centre. However, we regret the loss of life. Women are not supposed to die due to negligence. That is why we are still investigating on whatever happened during the day. It can be a minor logistical problem, very easy to solve,” Kumpalume says.

He says nothing specific has been put in place to end challenges the health sector is facing in terms of transport in the 2017.

However, people from GVH Thomasi Muhinji say they are sick and tired and they do not want to burry another woman dying due to birth-giving-related complications.

The communities petitioned the M’mberwa District Council asking Mzimba Hospital to explain on what transpired on Falesi’s dealth.

In their petition, which was presented to Nyirenda, their councillor, the communities also demand an ambulance at Chikangawa Health Centre.

In fact, these people do not want to see another baby experiencing the hardships which Alefa is going through as a result of its mother’s wrongful death.

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