Malawian mothers: three tales of suffering and hope

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Three women explain how they lost babies to pneumonia because they live too far from health centres. Pneumococcal vaccine, now part of Malawi's immunisation programme, will help to prevent such premature deaths. 

Malawi-Kids at Chifuchambewa village

In the remote and hilly farming region of Salima in eastern Malawi, it's midsummer but the nights are still chilly.

At Chifuchambewa village,  mothers cannot afford blankets or warm clothing to protect newborn babies from the cold.  All are haunted by the fear that they will awake to the sound of laboured breathing and rasping coughs -- tell-tale signs that their children have contracted pneumonia.

In richer countries, pneumonia is easily treated with antibiotics but Chifuchambewa lies 25 kilometres from the nearest health centre, and pneumonia takes a terrible toll on the village's youngest generations. 

In this special feature, three young mothers tell heartbreaking stories of how their children succumbed to pneumonia before their first birthday -- not because they were incurable, but because they could not get access to life-saving medicine quickly enough.

In November, Malawi introduced pneumococcal vaccine into its routine immunisation programme. The new vaccine will protect children like Boniface, Precious and Doreen from the leading cause of pneumonia, giving Chifuchambewa's mothers hope that their tales of suffering and loss will not be repeated.

Christina Banda

Christina-Banda

Boniface was coughing and struggling to breathe, so I took him to the village clinic first thing in the morning. They immediately referred him to the Makion health centre. My husband had gone to the market to buy fertilizer for our cotton crop so I had to set off on foot by myself.

Four hours later, when we were close to the clinic, Boniface started to cry. I thought he was hungry so I took him off my back to try to feed him. Suddenly he stopped moving and I knew he was dead.

It was terrible. He was my youngest, only 11 months old. If I have another child, I would like to get the new pneumococcal vaccine.

Stella Jeremiah

Stella-Jeremiah

Precious was sick for two days, coughing a lot with laboured breathing. Our clinic told me it was serious. My son had pneumonia and would have to go to the Makion health centre.  

I put him on my back and together with my husband started the long, painful walk. We were so worried. Precious was only nine-months-old and, at that time, our only child.

It took hours to get to the health centre so Precious died before the doctors could even treat him.

Now I prayer that the new pneumococcal vaccine means fewer children will die and fewer parents will have to go through what I and my husband did.

Grace Maganizo

Grace-Maganizo

My daughter Doreen was only eight-months-old when she contracted pneumonia. She couldn't breath properly for the whole night and had a severe fever.  In the morning, I took her to the village clinic and they gave her some medicine but there was no improvement.

At three o'clock in the afternoon, I set off for the health centre at Makion, 25 kilometres from my home.

There are no vehicles in our village so I had to walk. It took me about four hours to cover the dirt tracks that are the only route to Makion from here.

Doreen died in my arms, minutes after I got to the health centre.

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