Most of the times we forget the role of African women in global health. I have come to believe that they are the solution we need to avert the rampant problems we are facing.
In December, 2004, I was diagnosed with Nephritis, pending surgery at one of the major hospitals in Lilongwe district. I was admitted for the operation. Although it was during exam week in my first semester at college, I was advised to forget about school and focus on recovery. Through the pain of an infected kidney and the emotional suffering engulfed with fear, I was afraid that I may get withdrawn from college. I was privileged to be in the same college with my sister, who was 3 years ahead of me, and at that time was sitting for her last but one exam at college. She managed to stand in as my guardian for the first 2 days.
My mother was 280 miles away from town in my home village, an area of no network coverage. After various efforts to contact her, she appeared in the hospital ward 4 days later. I had hardly noticed any changes in myself, unlike other patients in the ward. Soon, all the visitors were asked to leave the patient wards to allow the doctors to attend to the patients, and the patient guardians started chatting. I was trying to sleep at that time, but I could still hear the conversation in the background. A woman waiting for her husband told my mother, “Mum, things have changed with him since your arrival. He is now eating, smiling and talking. He seems like he is getting better now.” They were all laughing and telling many other stories. Everyone in my family came and went, emphasizing the tasks they left behind, yet my mother mentioned none. She had left a sick husband back at the village, my father, with no one to prepare the specialized dishes he loves, draw water for him, wash for him or even to carry water for him to the bathroom and bed him.
The power of an African woman goes beyond measure. It is more often than not uncalculated and undocumented, and the society does not recognize it. Here is a time I needed attention just to respond to treatment. Emotionally I was helped to accept the situation and feel safe in her presence. I remember her telling me of a situation she was asked to understand and accept by an English doctor during my delivery at birth. She happened to be very sick and alone in the labor ward. The doctor said, “Mum, one of your kidneys is not working and you are hypertensive. In such a situation we can only manage to save one- we may either save you or the baby, but not both. Lets just pray God save both of you.” My mother said a very short prayer that she believes God answered immediately: “Lord, if you take me there is no one in my family to take care of my baby, and not even my daughter is old enough to breast feed my child. Please spare my life only to see my son growing up.” Today, we still thank God for such a wonderful life He has given us both.
We sometimes abuse the love we have around us, and the power these women pose to things we can hardly control. Women go through pain which men cannot even bear. And yet they still stand up to make the world go round. One patient on a bed opposite mine had stayed in that ward for nine months. He had lost his job during that period and his wife was alongside his bed the whole time, happily taking care of him. She had left everything she owned and loved, just to be by her husband. It is obvious everything productive had stopped in that household, but she was hopeful of the husbands recovery all that time. What if she had decided to leave the husband and marry another active and productive man?
What can we achieve in the fight against global health problems when we focus 50% of our effort to African mothers?….