By Richard Chirombo:
From the outside, Gogo Chatinkha Maternity Wing is one of the finest sights at Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital (QECH).
With its spacious rooms and dreamlike corridors, it can as well be called the capital of safe motherhood in Malawi.
The tiniest details of the place, as indicated by the fact that it has one head who focuses on the academic side of life and another who focuses on the other equally important side of safe delivery, symbolise the grandiose ambitions of its personnel to see every pregnant woman who visits the place laden with expectations go back home with a baby, or babies, and happy memories on top of that.
Countless mothers and children owe their happy memories to this place, a place that was reclaimed from grass and forest-land in 1958, growing to become one of the central hospitals in Malawi. Others are Zomba, Kamuzu and Mzuzu.
Not that QECH is the first health facility in the Southern Region. Far from it, for there are others that paved the way for the likes of Gulupu, as QECH is sometimes known. After all, Gogo Chatinkha Maternity Wing, a gift from Malawi’s first president Dr Hastings Kamuzu Banda, was opened as recently as December 25 1980.
For example, after the first Presbyterian mission in Malawi was founded in Blantyre by Church of Scotland missionaries in 1876, medical work was done from the start, culminating in the opening of Blantyre Mission Hospital (BMH) in 1896, records at BMH show.
The facility (BMH) was then modified into a maternity hospital in 1943, when the government opened a male hospital. BMH closed when QECH was opened in 1958 and all health services of Blantyre Synod of the Church of Central Africa Presbyterian were concentrated at Mulanje, becoming known as Mulanje Mission Hospital (MMH).
In terms of maternity services, MMH started offering them earlier than Gogo Chatinkha Maternity Wing at QECH. For instance, records there indicate that, after the abolition of the slave trade, the mission was moved, about 10 kilometres from the original spot, to its present location.
The initial clinic was a maternity facility. In 1950, a dormitory for trainee midwives was built, followed by an operating theatre in 1958. A large new maternity block was added to the facility in 1972. In 1980, a paediatric ward was erected along with staff houses. The hospital finally changed from maternity clinic to a full-fledged hospital in 1999, when the male ward was opened, the records further indicate.
However, in terms of deliveries, QECH has surpassed the mark, delivering hundreds of thousands of babies while MMH has delivered tens of thousands.
While people like Head of Gynaecology [academic side] at QECH, Dr Luis Gadama, work hard to ensure that the baby-delivery process goes smoothly, without casualties either on part of the mother or child, the people they work had for do not normally remember to go back to Gogo Chatinkha Maternity Wing to appreciate the efforts dedicated staff put into their work to ensure the institution continues to have a good name.
In fact, the truth Gadama and others have hit upon is that there is a certain shallowness of spirit among babies — who are now adults— that passed through the corridors of Gogo Chatinkha Maternity Wing so that, out of the many that went there as fetuses and came back as babies, only a few remember to go back.
Well, maybe this state of affairs is about to change, for the better, as others, more younger than those who were delivered at Gogo Chatinkha Maternity Wing the day it opened its doors to clients are remembering to remember the facility.
Take eight-year-old Blantyre Baptist Academy learner Reward Chiutsi, for instance.
For seven years, he, aided by his parents, had been celebrating birthdays with friends, spending thousands of kwacha on such events.
This year, perhaps because he still has traces of Gogo Chatinkha Maternity Wing in his blood, he decided to celebrate in a special way— a smack in the face of those who regard the maternity wing at QECH with a shallowness of spirit.
Reward showered Gogo Chatinkha Maternity Wing occupants with hampers of items such as sugar, washing powder, soap and margarine, among others, worth K750,000 on Friday.
He also donated K250,000 in cash to help stakeholders solve some of the challenges the facility faces.
“I have done so because I was born here. I wanted to celebrate with mothers who are expecting or are about to deliver as well as the staff here,” Reward, who wants to become State president, said.
Before saying that, he delivered a speech to an ecstatic audience.
He said, in nine words: “Find out the will of God on your children”.
It is the eight-year-old’s piece of advice to parents, of course.
By extension, it could mean: for babies born at QECH’s Gogo Chatinkha Maternity Wing, it was the will of God that they passed through the able hands of workers there. It is also the will of God that parents should guide children born there in the right way.
His father, Dickens, said they were happy to teach their child the “art of giving” while young; for the Bible says children have, like a tender tree, to be straightened while young.
“We, as a family, wanted to set a precedent,” he said.
Blantyre Baptist Academy Deputy Head teacher, Jailosi Naluso, said, from Reward’s gesture to reward Gogo Chatinkha Maternity Wing inhabitants with gifts, he had learned a lesson: “Like adults, children can change lives of others in a positive way. I will encourage other learners to do likewise; to remember people who helped them; to give to those who cannot give back”.
Gadama was overwhelmed with Reward’s gesture, but was quick to say medical personnel do not serve people while waiting for rewards in return.
The medical profession is like religion, he suggested; for it does not offer any hope of earthly rewards to those who serve patients selflessly. If anything, nurses, midwifes, gynecologists are happy to see happiness written all over the faces of mothers who deliver safely.
“That said, we are overwhelmed that a small boy could do this to others. As a unit, we will discuss how best to use the money.
“Actually, we are courting friends of Chatinkha to be coming here. I know there are many people older than Reward who have passed through the corridors of Gogo Chatinkha Maternity Wing,” Gadama said.
That is how the gesture of a boy stirred feelings that were a blurred mix of memories and excitement, both of which have created a track that cuts deep into the hard sand of Reward’s subconscious. Who knows, it may become a habit!