Rose Wasili, 48, recalls with gloom an unfortunate incident on January 20 2004, when she lost her baby on her way to Zomba Central Hospital.
The previous day, she had sought to deliver her fourth child at the nearest health centre, from where she was referred to a referral facility.
“At the health centre, they said the baby was not in a normal position,” Wasili, from Uchiganga Village in Chingale, Zomba, says.
Health personnel at the health centre called for an ambulance which ferried the expectant mother to Zomba Central Hospital, then referred to as a general hospital.
In the middle of the journey, the ambulance got stuck in mud and kept the woman in distress for three hours.
“I ended up delivering in the vehicle. It was a painful experience,” Wasili recalls, a cold look appearing in her eyes.
She was then admitted to the referral hospital for two weeks.
Seventeen years later, the condition of the road—stretching from Lirangwe through Chingale to Machinga—has worsened.
Apparently, more women continue giving birth on their way to Zomba Central Hospital.
“This experience degrades the dignity of women. No one should give birth on the road,” Wasili says.
Mary Magombo, also from Chingale, went through a similar experience in 2018. Stuck on the road on her way to the central hospital, her uterus raptured and she lost her baby.
It is a nightmare that keeps haunting her when she still sees the road in its bad state.
“Conception is supposed to be a joyful occasion, but for people living along this road, it signifies nine months of stress,” Magombo says.
Sub-Traditional Authority Nkapita of Zomba concurs with the two women and others along the Lirangwe-Chingale-Machinga Road who damn its poor state.
He says the past 17 years have been a nightmare for users of the neglected stretch where some expectant mothers, too, have lost their lives.
An organisation that fights for improved reproductive and maternal health services, White Ribbon Alliance (WRA), also rues deaths of women struggling to bring out life.
Currently, maternal mortality rate in Malawi stands at 439 deaths per 100,000 live births.
The figures cast a dark shadow on the possibility of Malawi attaining a Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) that compels nations to reduce maternal deaths to 70 per 100,000 live births by the end of this decade.
“Women are dying in Malawi due to causes that could be prevented. Inadequate skilled personnel and poor infrastructure and environment contribute to the deaths,” WRA executive director Hester Nyasulu says.
He states that a campaign that WRA conducted through which it sought women’s responses on what they need in line with their maternal and reproductive health, found that transport infrastructure and systems came top.
This means women face untold challenges in travelling to their nearest health facilities.
“I concur and sympathise with the people of Zomba and others who use the road. It is high time the government came to their rescue,” Nyasulu says.
A few days ago, residents of Machinga, Zomba and Blantyre petitioned Parliament so that lawmakers can push for the construction of the 62-kilometre road.
Former presidents Joyce Banda and Peter Mutharika laid foundation stones for the construction of the stretch whose users warn they are tired of being taken for granted.
Their petition was received by Mzimba North Member of Parliament (MP) Yeremia Chihana, who was accompanied by his Thyolo Central counterpart, Ben Phiri.
The petitioners said they had exhausted all civil means of compelling the government to work on the road.
MP for Blantyre North Francis Phiso, in whose constituency the road passes, said its users have been lied to for too long.
The sentiments were echoed by Zomba Chingale lawmaker, Lonnie Chijere Phiri, who believes the absence of a proper road stretching through her area is fuelling poverty.
“This is an important road, yet authorities don’t seem to see this. In the rainy season, accessing markets, health facilities and education becomes a huge challenge,” Phiri says.
Apparently, the contractor working on the project, Mota Engil, moved out last November.
The firm’s spokesperson Thomas Chafunya said financial constraints compelled the contractor to abandon the works which will resume once funds are available.
Speaking after receiving the petition, Chihana said he sympathises with people along the road.
According to the petitioners, it is unfortunate that Parliament has been allocating resources to the project on a number of occasions, with nothing happening.
But Chihana promised he would speedily push for the matter to be deliberated during the next meeting of Parliament.
Meanwhile, welfare monitoring body, Centre for Social Concern (CfSC), says what is happening on the Lirangwe-Chingale-Machinga Road is unfortunate.
CfSC Programmes Manager, Bernard Mphepo, said it was encouraging to see rural masses taking to task duty-bearers and demanding development initiatives in their areas.
He reckoned that the road has repeatedly being used as a campaign tool for those seeking political offices before they discard their promises after attaining the seats.
“Communities along the road live in poverty because of the poor condition of the road. Their farm produce is bought at low prices because of lack of markets, yet other commodities reach the areas at very exorbitant prices,” Mphepo says.
SDG Three looks at ensuring “healthy lives and promoting well-being for all at all ages”.
Associated targets aim to reduce the global maternal mortality ratio; end preventable deaths of new-borns and children; end epidemics of Aids, tuberculosis, malaria and other communicable diseases; and reduce mortality from non-communicable diseases, among others.
Others include halving the number of deaths and injuries from road traffic accidents; ensuring universal access to sexual and reproductive health-care services; achieving universal health coverage; and reducing the number of deaths and illnesses from hazardous chemicals and pollution.
But, with a 62.3km stretch taking over 17 years to finish constructing, resulting in mothers dying or giving birth on the road, chances are high Malawi will miss the SDG target of reducing maternal mortality rates.