Eliza’s story: Preventing malnutrition in Malawi

In the field, Food & climate change article written on the 14 May 2019

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Eliza is a young mother faced with the challenge of trying to feed her baby enough nutritious food while also looking after her own health problems.

She’s a resilient survivor who always says that things are fine when she greets people, even when she is feeling awful. During her pregnancy, she was seriously ill and then shortly after delivery she was struck by malaria and wasn’t able to walk. The doctors have told her that she is anaemic and to get better she needs to eat a balanced and more nutritious diet. She agrees but she knows that she cannot heed their advice as there is barely enough money for maize, let alone vegetables. When the maize from the harvest runs out and there is no work to be found, Eliza goes to bed hungry. She doesn’t want this life for her child, she wants to see her eating nutritious food and getting a decent education so she can grow up healthy and follow a career of her choice.

“I have one baby so far. She is 7 months old. During my pregnancy with her I was frequently falling ill. Then after delivering the baby, my leg was giving me problems and I couldn’t walk because I developed malaria.

“After the pregnancy, things were hard, I became seriously ill with malaria. The malaria paralysed my legs, I couldn’t walk. They felt so numb and I was also feeling dizzy. I went to the hospital and I received some medication, at first there was a remarkable change but then after a while the illness came back. There is a private hospital close by, I went there and I was prescribed some drugs and then I finally improved. At the hospital they told me that I was anaemic, and that I needed to eat a balanced and more nutritious diet. I agreed, but I knew I could not adhere to the advice.

“It is a big challenge to get food with a variety of nutrients. We face challenges in getting food in this area because money is hard to come by. It is rare for us to add tomatoes to the nsima meal the way we did today, mostly we just prepare the nsima without adding anything and eat it.

“The maize that we grow is seasonal. When we run out of maize and we don’t have any money left, we have to go to bed on an empty stomach.

“After harvest time, we have enough food to last till October, but from November to January and onwards we will sometimes go to bed without anything in our stomach except when we can find work ploughing the fields for other people.

“I work for other people, but the work is scarce. Most of the work that people do is brick moulding and once in a while, harvesting work. The work is seasonal and when there are no more jobs, we have no money, not even enough to buy soap.

“During my pregnancy I was worried that I was not eating a good diet to give birth to a healthy baby.

“The health of the baby was okay and she was discharged without any problems. Then after a couple of months she developed malaria. I took her to hospital and to the traditional healers. She is fine now, but has an upset stomach. I’ve been told to buy her some mineral salts and I need some supplements but I don’t have enough money.

“The better hospital in Nkhoma is really far away and it costs 200 kwacha to go there by bus. It’s not easy to afford to get there and pay for the drugs. The District Hospital is closer and we walk there, but most of the time there will be no one there, so we walk back without receiving any help. When we are turned away from the hospital it is because there is no doctor and we come back empty handed.

“It was difficult to get enough food when I was growing up. I will not lie; my parents are poor. We would do our best to farm the land but buying fertiliser was a challenge, we could not get it. Come harvest time, we would get a poor harvest and food would be a problem for us till the next harvest season. My parents are poor.

“Food is a challenge because it’s very difficult for my parents to provide enough food for the family, they survive on doing jobs for other people. If they do not get those jobs then it means there will be no food in the home.

“My desire is to see my child not find herself in the situation that I am currently in, she should be different. I have lived a difficult life and I would not want her to go through the same. I want my child to go to school and be able to follow a career of her choice.

“My prayer and desire is to earn enough income, so I can send my child to school and provide her with nutritious food that will help her to grow up as a healthy child.

“When I am not feeling well, I try hard to go outside, I’ll do the dishes, fetch the water and do all the household chores and try not concentrate on my sickness. I only give positive response when I am greeting people, even when I am not feeling well. I don’t feel well most of the time, but I think that it would be unfair to highlight that on a daily basis and I don’t need my partner stressing over my continued sickness. I try to be strong despite not feeling well most of the time.

“When I was sick, I would go to the hospital. At the hospital I would share some of my challenges with the doctor as they examined me. The doctor advised me to take some time to rest when I felt ill and to only do my chores when I feel better. The advice from the doctor made me strong. In the same manner I believe forming a group to share experiences would also be of great help. There has never been such a group.

“My child eats the same thing every day. Mostly just nsima. Once in a while we get soya pieces, but we don’t eat much else.

“I would very much like to continue my education one day. It is my dream to become a nurse. Because I am a caring person concerned about health issues. And I would like to work at the hospital to help sick people.”

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