Preventable deaths spark a mother’s anguish

Justina, 40, lost two children and nearly lost a third because her rural village in Zambia was too far away from a medical clinic. World Vision’s Survive to Five™ Challenge seeks to end the preventable deaths of children under 5 worldwide.

Published March 13, 2012 at 12:00am PDT

It was an ordinary day when tragedy struck Justina and her family. She was preparing food when her baby son, Mwila, who had previously been healthy, began to cry.

“He clung on me. I thought he was very hungry,” Justina recalls. “I gave him the food, but he refused to eat it…eventually he became weak and stopped crying.”

What happened next was terrifying. “He looked very sick suddenly,” says Justina. “We struggled to find transport, and walking was the last thing we could opt to do, because the clinic is far…even if we [had] found a car after an hour of searching, it was too late.”

Justina says that Mwila began to bleed from his nose and mouth. But there was nothing she could do except walk more than seven miles to the nearest clinic with her ailing son. By the time they arrived, it was too late.

“The medical staff told us that we delayed taking the child to clinic, so there was nothing they could do to save the baby. He was declared dead because he had lost a lot of blood,” Justina reflects painfully.

“It was very devastating as I hopelessly watched my son die. This was the first baby boy I had waited for in many years.”

Devastation all too familiar

But he wasn’t the first. Her first baby boy, Kayele, died in 2008, at just one week old.

“I delivered from home. I could not manage to get to the clinic because I did not have money for transport,” says Justina. “Before delivery, I had not visited the antenatal clinics in a long time, so I didn’t know I had malaria, which had transmitted to the baby.”

She took him to the clinic. He died the same day.

“I was depressed,” says Justina. “Just like Mwila, I had always longed to have a baby boy. Each time I think of the children I have lost, I feel pain. I know at least that if there was a clinic nearby, one of these children would have been alive today.”

As if this all was not enough, Justina recently almost lost her 6-year-old daughter, Busalo, who had suffered from a swelling stomach. The child’s intestines had burst, releasing toxins into her body.

Busalo underwent surgery. “I thank God my daughter is alive; otherwise, I would have suffered another loss,” she says.

Preventable tragedies

Many pregnant mothers in Justina's village, like this one, either give birth at home or on the way to the health center, because it is so far away. This threatens the lives of both the mother and the newborn baby.Sadly, Justina’s nightmarish experiences reflect a brutal reality for mothers and children who live in places of poverty, where basic medical care can be far out of reach. This means that young children often suffer — and even die — from completely preventable causes.

Justina notes that other expectant mothers and their newborn babies in her region have also died after giving birth at home, because the clinic was simply too far.

“We need a clinic here to save our lives. Otherwise, we will continue to die,” she says matter-of-factly. “Our hope now lies on the clinic that World Vision is helping us to construct in Chikwanda community. At least there, it is nearer.”

Ongoing support for children at risk

World Vision is assisting Justina in other ways, too. Three of her children are now sponsored.

“I am grateful to World Vision,” she says. “They have assisted my children with school shoes, clothes, school bags, pencils and mosquito nets. Child sponsorship is bringing a lot of difference to my family.”

Mapalo Simfukwe, a World Vision community development worker, says there is great need for health, education, clean water, and agricultural assistance in the region of Zambia where Justina lives. “World Vision is already focusing on these areas to try to address the suffering of the people,” he says.

In particular, World Vision’s Survive to Five™ Challenge seeks to end preventable deaths of children under age 5, who are especially vulnerable during these first several years of life. Because of government grants, any donations collected through this campaign will triple in impact to help fight preventable causes of child deaths, such as malnutrition, waterborne illness, malaria, unskilled birth attendants, lack of access to medications and health facilities, and more.

Learn more

Read about Child Health Now, World Vision’s global campaign to end preventable child deaths.

Three ways you can help

Please pray for mothers like Justina, who face the brutal position of mourning the loss of children who died, while worrying about the ones still alive. Pray that interventions like access to basic medical care will provide a sense of relief and peace to mothers like her living in poverty around the world.

Make a donation to World Vision’s Survive to Five™ Challenge. A gift of any amount will triple in impact to help save children under 5 from death by preventable causes.

Sponsor a child in Zambia or another country of your choice. Your love and support for a child in need will help deliver life-giving basics that establish stablility and health, like nutritious food, clean water, education, medical care, safe shelter, and more.