Many of us frequently complain about our National Health Service; after numerous visits to Zambia I really appreciate having this facility and no longer take it for granted. During my visitis to Mukuni Village I have come across countless situations where people are too sick to walk to a clinic, too poor to be able to afford transport to hospital or too broke to purchase a much needed perscription. Nothing however upset me more than the plight of two baby boys, Vincent and Elvis born last month.
The infants’ mother, from Kamwi Village, was seven months pregnant when she went for a routine check-up at Mukuni Maternity Clinic, funded by The Butterfly Tree. A simple test showed that she was suffering from anaemia and she was subsequently referred to Livingstone General Hospital. Two days later, having gone into premature labour, she died in child birth with one of the three triplets. Due to the lack of scanning equipment no one knew that she was expecting three babies. The distraught grandmother left the hospital leaving the medical staff to care for the two remaining baby boys. For twenty-four hours they were given only water until their father’s mother arrived taking them under her wings. Relying on ‘well-wishers’ she set about nurturing the two boys, each weighing just over one kilogram.
Mukuni Babies – Vincent
The infants were to remain in hospital for two months, however there was no formula available and no support on offer from social services. They were too small be be taken to an orphange. After two and a half weeks the infants, weighing only 1.4 and 1.6 kgs, were discharged! Having previously sent blankets and clothing, kindly knitted by Solihull Inner Wheel and mosquito nets and baby products donated by Mellors Chemist in Warwick, I went to visit these new arrivals at their rural home in Kamwi Village, some seven kilometres from Mukuni and twenty-three from the hospital. I learnt that the father was unemployed and that they had sufficient funds for just one week’s supply of formula and only two feeding bottles. I was reduced to tears when I saw these helpless infants with no mother, lying on their grandmother’s bed; it was heartbreaking and impossible for someone from the West to comprehend how little these people have. Pieces of torn material were being used for nappies, Lifebouy soap for washing them and only a minute paraffin flame to assist the grandmother during the night for their three hourly feeds.
Three weeks old – Elvis
Hence my shopping mission in Livingstone – nappies, feeding bottles, formula, brushes, clothing, blankets, baby products and Milton; all the things that we take for granted and have readily available when caring for newborn babies. To give the father a chance to support his sons the charity has donated a bicycle so that he can collect charcoal to sell in the village and has also given seeds to grow maize. The grandmother accepted money for food to keep up her strength. For the first time in two weeks I saw the father smile having been in complete shock after his tragic loss. The rainy season is under way, which increases the risk of diarrhoea, pneumonia and Africa malaria, so it is crucial that they are well protected.
Before I left Zambia I took them for a review at the hospital – Vincent’s weight had remained the same and his brother Elvis had gained, both now weighing in at 1.6 kilograms, but no loss! The nurse was very happy with their progress. The baby boys will now be put on The Butterfly Tree under-fives’ feeding program and have weekly check-ups at Mukuni Health Centre. These infants have a long way to go before they are out of danger, but I have no doubt that the father and grandmother will do everything they can to help them to survive.