In March 6 babies were enrolled including 4 orphans and 2 babies without access to breast milk. (The four infants lost their mothers to postpartum hemorrhage, sepsis, possible cardiac myopathy, and gastrointestinal illness. So many times when a woman dies in Malawi the actual cause is never identified which compounds the tragedy, this is the case with the story of Violet below.
This month we lost baby Prisca, she was a 22-month-old triplet. She developed pneumonia and was admitted to the hospital. After three days in hospital, she died.
This month 2 women were enrolled in the Mother Care program (one had experienced a severe postpartum infection and the other was suffering from severe anemia).
Nurses are currently following 23 women and 241 babies. This month they made 187 visits to women and infants in their homes. 560 tins of formula were distributed.
Baby Admission Story. Violet was only 21 and pregnant for the first time. She attended her prenatal care visits but we are not sure how far along she was when she became sick. At some point in her third trimester, she contracted a severe diarrheal illness and sought care at the district hospital. She was given medications and sent home but nine days later she returned to the hospital feeling worse. At that time they admitted her and she received a blood transfusion. She continued to deteriorate and three days later her baby boy was delivered by c-section. Violet died the following day, October 28th. Violet’s family did everything possible to care for her surviving baby, they sought donations for formula, sold items to purchase formula, fed him watery porridge when formula was not available. Finally in March Violet’s family learned about Joyful Motherhood and brought her baby for enrollment.
Violet was a healthy young woman. The loss of her life is not only emotionally devastating for her family, the loss of her life also has financial implications. First her family lost a productive adult who was actively contributing to the overall well-being of the family and second, after her death her family used scarce resources to care for her orphaned infant. The loss of a single woman of reproductive age sinks a family deeper into poverty. The tragedy of her death is compounded by the fact that her family will never really know why she died. It is hard to imagine losing a loved one and not understanding the cause. This is terrible for any family, and certainly this is also terrible for the clinicians who cared for her and even the Ministry of Health. The clinicians who treated her do not have the diagnostic tools to determine the true cause of her illness and cause of death. Therefore, the ability to improve practice and prevent similar deaths in the future remains limited.
We at African Mothers Health Initiative and Joyful Motherhood, are intervening and addressing a small part of a large problem. We are now supporting Violet’s family as they care for her son in his first years of life. Our goal is to see him through early childhood and ensure that his family has the knowledge and support needed to protect his health. We know the efforts, funds and support spent on these fragile newborns are worthwhile and life-saving. Still, it is important to remain aware of the greater context, the complexity and interconnectedness of maternal and child health.