Expectant mothers camp in squalor
Helena Kalombe wakes up every morning with the hope that she will finally go into labour, so that she may return home with her newborn and be reunited with her family.
Kalombe, who is nine months pregnant, has been camping in a small tent on an open site outside the Outapi District Hospital in the Omusati Region along with close to 100 other expecting mothers.
Kalombe’s journey from her home village of Omatembu in the Kunene Region started five weeks ago, when she travelled to Outapi - about 100km away - to be closer to a health centre, while she waits to go into labour.
“I left my young children at home so that I can deliver this baby that I am carrying with the assistance of professionals. It hasn’t been easy living in these deplorable conditions, but what is the alternative? We must endure,” said Kalombe.
Kalombe’s story is similar to that of many women of child-bearing age, who travel long distances from their homes to camp next to the closest district hospital that provides safe normal and caesarean deliveries.
Esther Matheus from Okalongo told Namibian Sun that life as a pregnant camper has been made harder by the lack of electricity, water and toilets at the site.
According to Matheus, while health officials have allowed them to get water from the taps of the district hospital at allocated times, the lack of ablution facilities at the campsite means the women have to relieve themselves in the open veld.
When Namibian Sun visited the campsite, a pungent urine odour could be smelled, while human excrement was clearly visible near some tents.
Some women were also spotted bathing in a canal, a stone’s throw from the campsite.
“When you are pregnant you tend to pee a lot, especially at night, so a lot of us just pee close by our tents when it is dark, because it is dangerous to wander off - especially since there is no electricity. Just this weekend we killed a snake and a scorpion nearby,” said Matheus.
Matheus has been living at the campsite for three months with her 10-year-old daughter, who she says helps bathe her, prepare food and wash clothing.
Mother and daughter have together endured rain, wind, cold and heat.
“A lot of us with transport problems came here early, because we also have to go for antenatal care. Staying here is perhaps not the safest option, but it is the best option because if I have to go into labour, I am at least near the hospital. Having my daughter with me has helped me a lot,” said Matheus.
Another woman, who did not want to be named, said she hails from Ombalantu.
She said she came to live on the campsite a couple of months ago as the closest clinic to her home is over 30km away.
“Our house is far from the main road and there are no cars in our area. If I have to go into labour, there is no way I would make it to a health facility on time, so I was forced to come live here,” she said.
According to the eight months pregnant woman, without electricity to charge her mobile phone, she is unable to communicate to her family when her maize meal and firewood run out.
Omusati Regional Council Chairperson Tataati Shileka said hope is blooming for expectant mothers, as phase one of the Tukwathela Mothers Shelter Project is now complete.
The project is spearheaded by a local community committee that includes representatives of the Outapi Town Council, the Omusati Regional Council, the Ombalantu Traditional Authority and health professionals.
According to Shileka, toilets, showers and four rooms that will each accommodate between four to six women have already been constructed. Once the facility is furbished with beds, some of the women can move in.
The construction of the first phase was made possible following a generous donation of N$500 000 by Namport.
Last year Standard Bank also contributed N$100 000 toward the construction of the Tukwathela Mothers Shelter Project, while former City of Windhoek chief executive officer Martin Shipanga donated N$100 000 and the Ombalantu Traditional Authority gave N$50 000.
“It started from humble beginnings and I am proud at how far we have come. Depending on the availability of funds, the next phase of construction might be divided into two,” said Shileka.
According to a report compiled by the committee driving the project, the Outapi District has 19 298 women of child-bearing age.
Due to the fact that clinics and health facilities in the region only provide emergency delivery services expectant women are forced to seek shelter near the hospital, because the majority live far from the nearest health facility and cannot make it to the hospital on time when they are in labour.
Once completed, the Tukwathela Mothers Shelter Project will accommodate about 100 expectant mothers.
Merja Iileka Namibian Sun