By FREDRICK MWANSA –
Jaclyne Munakampongo, 23, a resident of Kakuse in Chief Shezongo’s Chiefdom in Itezhi-Tezhi district, married in 2011 when she was only 14-years-old.
Getting married at a tender age is a common experience for many girls in rural Itezhi-Tezhi, where, according to Soul-Aid Zambia, a Non-Governmental Organisation based in the district, 56 per cent of girls marry before completing secondary school due to social factors.
After marrying in 2011, Ms Munakampongo quickly discovered that getting pregnant was very easy for her, but keeping the pregnancy for a duration of ninth months was extremely difficult.
She became pregnant on her first cycle of trying, but her joy at being pregnant with her first child was short-lived.
She miscarried at seven months.
The miscarriage was heartbreaking.
But being a woman of strong faith, she began trying again almost immediately, assuming that things would be different this time and that she would have a baby.
But she lost her baby again at seven months.
“The loss of a second pregnancy brought even more devastation because so much was being said about me. Some people were insinuating that there was something wrong or that I was bewitched,” Ms Munakampongo said.
She narrated how her husband, who was also full of faith, decided to take her to Muchila Helaht Centre and later Macha Mission Hospital so that her uterus could be cleaned.
She then became pregnant again.
But as with the previous pregnancy, she lost the baby at seven months.
“The miscarriages became an annual event which I endured. They stole my happiness for one full year,” Ms Munakampongo said.
The young woman said she had lost faith in traditional medicine at this point, but she and her husband continued trying until their 10th pregnancy which surprised her by lasting nine months.
She said that she realised the value of antenatal clinic after experiencing so many miscarriages in the past, and she was advised to give birth at a health facility.
She rushed to Mbila Rural Health Centre as soon as she felt the labour pains.
At the health facility, she struggled for seven days trying to give birth, but the health workers recognised her case as a risk pregnancy and referred her to Itezhi-Tezhi District Hospital.
Ms Munakampongo was unable to be transported by ambulance from Mbila to Itezhi-Tezhi District Hospital because the health facility is one of the five health institutions that were not accessible on account of flooding.
Itezhi Tezhi District Health Director Sylvester Kasonde communicated with the provincial health director’s office, which relayed the information to the Ministry of Health director of clinical services at the headquarters in Lusaka, and later Zambia Air force (ZAF).
When Ms Munakampongo heard the sound of a helicopter while impatiently laying in her labour ward at Mbila Clinic on January 20, she had no idea of the Government’s plan to facilitate her evacuation to the district hospital to fulfill her dream of becoming a mother.
Ms Munakampongo, like many women in rural Zambia, had resigned herself to fate due to her womb’s inability to sustain pregnancies and later delivery.
Ms Munakampongo, with the assistance of midwives and doctors, gave birth to a healthy baby boy a few hours after a ZAF chopper ferried her to Itezhi-Tezhi District Hospital for emergency medical attention.
After 10 years and 10 attempts, she now has a happy story to tell about a successful delivery of her baby, thanks to the Government’s No Woman Should Die While Giving Birth policy, which compelled authorities to send a helicopter.
“This is a miracle. After nine previous miscarriages, I had no idea what would happen. But God answered my prayer,” she said.
Floods have cut off some health facilities, making it difficult for health workers to provide emergency services in affected facilities via ambulance.
Other rural health centres that are inaccessible by road include Kabanga, Banamwaze, Luubwe, and Masasabi.
“When we received an emergence call, we dispatched an ambulance. But it was unable to cross the Nanzhila River because the Dundumwezi climate resilient road had sustained extensive damage due to floods,” Dr Kasonde said.
The flooded Nanzhila River at Chilengwa in the Kangabala area of Chief Shezongo’s Chiefdom has completely destroyed the road.
“I saw the extent of the floods in the district from the chopper and we just hope there will be no similar emergency calls,” Dr Kasonde said.
He further expressed sadness that another woman with high blood pressure at the same facility lost her baby before she could be evacuated.
Dr Kasonde said as a long term solution, the Government should ensure that all-weather roads are built to connect health facilities, as well as put in place proper water transport.
“The case of Ms Munakampongo is a good example of a woman who values giving birth at a health facility. Imagine if she had chosen to give birth at home,” Dr Kasonde said.
He urged women to give birth in health facilities where skilled health workers are present to prevent maternal deaths.
“I am really happy for that woman. We call such babies as special or rainbow babies,” Dr Kasonde said.
He expressed worry that with flooding of some places in Itezhi-Tezhi, there would be increased home deliveries.
Dr Kasonde said the story of Ms Munakampongo’s prompt emergency evacuation is a classic example of the Government’s commitment to ensure that no women die while giving birth.
Ms Munakapongo’s 31-year-old husband, Mucholo Hachanda, described how he took his wife to several hospitals and then to traditional doctors in an attempt to have a child.
Mr Hachinda said he did everything he could within his means to get his wife pregnant every year.
He said the miscarriages did not dampen his hope for a child.
Mr Hachanda expressed gratitude to the health workers at Mbila Rural Health Centre and Itezhi-Tezhi District Hospital for their dedication and care.
He also thanked the Government for acting quickly to save both his wife and the baby at a time when his wife’s condition was dire.
Itezhi-Tezhi Member of Parliament (MP) Twaambo Mutinta, who was part of the rescue support team, expressed gratitude for the baby’s safe delivery.
Mr Mutinta pledged a variety of baby clothes, as have well wishers who were following the maternal case rescue effort through the media.
The law marker advised the couple to seek medical assistance and family planning services, as well as information, in order to begin a new reproductive health lifestyle.
Mr Mutinta thanked the Itezhi-Tezhi District Hospital management for their dedication to duty, particularly their commitment to prevent maternal mortality in the district despite the medical team working in very poor and difficult conditions.
Mr Mutinta, who is an outspoken advocate for Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR), said the case of Ms Munakampongo has highlighted the importance of empowering women to recognise and voice their claim to maternal health, as well as access information for decision making.
He said this can only be accomplished by addressing SRHR issues in rural areas.
“Inequality and violations of women’s rights are caused by harmful social norms, traditional practices and taboos about gender and sexuality, as well as a lack of access to Sexual Reproductive Health information,” Mr Mutinta said.
He said certain norms and cultural issues that deny women autonomy over their bodies must be changed.
“The fact that despite the woman having miscarriages every year and the husband continued to make her pregnant reflects a lack of autonomy, and our people should be made aware of this,” he said.
The MP said there is need for the formation of safe motherhood groups in the district’s schools, which could aid in the reduction of such incidents.
He further said there is a need to upgrade health facilities like Mbila Rural Health Center in order to reduce costly referrals.
Many stakeholders, without a doubt, saw the emergency evacuation of Ms Munakapongo in Itezhi-Tezhi district as a very commendable step toward total eradication of maternal death, which is every government’s desire in today’s world, and perhaps an adequate reward for this woman for having been patient for far too long.-ZANIS