Category Archives: Malawi

On being a mother…

My career in global health parallels my journey into motherhood.  I was heavily pregnant when I started working at AmeriCares and my first son was born six days after my first day on the job. I took my first trip to the field, visiting our partner in rural Malawi, my son was only seven months old.

Because of this parallel, I often see my work in the field through the eyes of a mother. On that first trip to Malawi, I saw a little boy about 18 months old who was severely malnourished. As a result, he was about the same size as my seven-month-old son. I understood the anguish of the mother who had walked several miles to the hospital with her son in her arms seeking care – for as a mother, I’d do the same.

Last year, on a trip to Liberia, the land of my birth, my heart was pierced when I heard wailing coming from the maternity ward – a wailing that only meant one thing: a mother had lost her baby. Having gone through the prospect of losing my son a day after he was born, I walked away haunted by that piercing cry and the thought that this mother could have been me.

For you see, the difference between me having two healthy sons and that woman crying in the maternity ward most likely lies in the fact that my son had access to emergency neonatal care. In the United States, four neonates die per 1,000 live births, while in Liberia, about 11,000 babies are dying within the first month of life. Think for a moment about how many mothers cannot celebrate Mother’s Day in Liberia without a hole in their heart because of this staggering number.

The need to address neonatal mortality in Liberia and across sub-Saharan Africa has become a matter of urgency. World Bank President Jim Kim recently said, “For most poor people, a good job is the key to escaping poverty. To get those jobs, they’ll need good skills, a quality education, and years of good health as they’re growing up and when they’re adults.” Kim is right, because children all over the world are born with the same potential.

I’ll never forget little Kofi* — a boy I met two years ago at a children’s home in Tamale, Ghana. He was about four years old then. Kofi was introduced to the iPhone by a visitor to One Child One World™  — a program which aims to reduce the incidence of malnutrition in 30 homes around the country. Within minutes, Kofi was flipping through the phone, looking at pictures and was as engaged as any child of his age here in the United States with a smartphone. In that moment, the potential that lay in Kofi was clear to me and everyone present. The question that remained unanswered as we left that home was whether he will in his lifetime have the opportunity to realize it. 

Kofi’s chance to get out of poverty depends on, among other things, years of good health. A journey that begins at birth and with a mother having the access to the health services needed to take him home healthy after delivery. That this isn’t the reality for most mothers in developing countries should give us pause on this Mother’s Day.

*name changed

Malawi Field Report

A mother attends to her child being treated at the AmeriCares-sponsored therapeutic feeding center in Malawi.

Elikem Tomety Archer, AmeriCares partnership manager for Africa, worked extensively in Africa including health programs in HIV/AIDS, malnutrition and anti-blindness initiatives. Elikem shares her most recent trip and tales of hope, from Malawi.

We left New York on a chilly Thursday morning and finally arrived in Malawi on a sunny Saturday afternoon. As soon as our plane landed on the tarmac, we were greeted by our local partners and got right to work. We literally hit the ground running.

Help save lives in Malawi and around the world » 

On the Ground:

Malawi is heartbreakingly beautiful. The country was once the breadbasket of Africa. Sadly, severe droughts have made for a rapid decline. During times of drought, lush greenery is replaced by a constant haze of dust on the barren horizon. The country is still recovering from a devastating drought that sparked a famine that killed hundreds and caused severe malnutrition in 2002.

Malawi is one of the world’s least developed countries, ranked number 166 of 177 countries on the Human Development Index. HIV/AIDS is the leading cause of death with 14% of the population is infected and nearly 100,000 people dying each year. Despite the government’s commitment to improving health, life expectancy is barely 41 years.

The people of Malawi now face disease and crushing poverty on a daily basis – yet they treat every moment alive as a gift, knowing first hand how fragile life really is.

But even when Malawi’s children don’t contract deadly disease, they face major challenges and can suffer with chronic malnutrition. That’s why AmeriCares helped build a therapeutic feeding center in Malawi.

Urgent Needs:

Over the years, I’ve had the pleasure of visiting and working with our partners, which has been receiving AmeriCares support since 2002. I have consistently been impressed by the love and care I see among the people there. Despite the presence of well-trained doctors – many graduated from both local and prestigious Western medical schools – the hospitals and clinics have limited ability to provide care and virtually no diagnostic capabilities. They would have few medicines and supplies were it not for donations.

Equipment is out of date and much of it is in great need of repair. Supplies that would be discarded in the U.S. are often recycled and reused.

Most families in Malawi live on remote farms, making access to health care nearly impossible. The average patient must walk for miles to get care; people delay getting care, which only makes things worse. In response, AmeriCares outfits teams of health workers with medical backpacks and bicycles to bring health care where it’s needed most.

One of the most memorable workers, Victor, makes house calls to pregnant women at high-risk for passing on HIV/AIDS to their unborn babies. Their medicines are very complicated, and Victor patiently and carefully makes sure they take just the right dose at the right time. I was thrilled to learn that the program has a 97% success rate and that so many children are born free of the deadly disease.

But even when Malawi’s children don’t contract deadly disease, they face major challenges and can suffer from chronic malnutrition. That’s why AmeriCares helped build a therapeutic feeding center in Malawi. The child I remember most was a young toddler who arrived at the Center just in time. He was emaciated. His fragile mother had carried him the whole way from her home, walking for nearly a day to bring him to the Center. Being the mother of my own young son, my heart went out to them. Her son stayed on intensive feeding for two solid weeks. When we made a follow up visit, I could not believe my eyes! His chubby cheeks and smiling face showed us that he was now thriving – reminding me of my own healthy little boy.

How we can help:

When I see first hand the results of our work with the people of Malawi, I feel all the more inspired to help AmeriCares efforts thrive and succeed. Their dedicated doctors and health workers make the most of every donation we give. Among the supplies they need the most are basic pain medicines, antibiotics, bandages, syringes and needles.

Maternal health is of serious concern. Many women have high-risk pregnancies and 25% of babies at local hospitals are born by surgical c-section. To care for these moms, they desperately need anesthesia, ultrasound machines, surgical equipment and other supplies to help with difficult deliveries. I was glad we were able to provide some relief with a donation of epidurals (strong medicines that help reduce labor pain while allowing a woman to remain awake during delivery), but so much more is needed.

I look forward to the day when I can return to Malawi and see more families living longer, healthier lives thanks to help from AmeriCares.

Help save lives in Malawi and around the world »