We traveled south today to Mbenji Health Center. Like all the other health centers I have visited, it is basically an H-shaped structure with two rows of clinic rooms connected by a corridor. One row has the OPD, antenatal clinic (ANC) and the maternity ward and the other row the ART [antiretroviral] or HIV Clinic and the Nutrition Education Unit with the two big cooking grills and hoods which are no longer in use. The local women set up their traditional three stoned stoves next to the perfectly good grills to cook dried fish for a woman who just gave birth. They were more comfortable with their cooking method than the large modern grills.
Mbenje suffers the same fate with other health centers regarding light fixtures, rusty beds many of which have no mattresses, clutter and poor maintenance. It had no water for several months and the water just came on a couple of weeks ago. The whole building seems sound structurally, however.
The waiting room of the ART Clinic was packed with mostly women and children, I saw only two men. Like most HIV clinics, men seem to be in the minority. For this clinic most of the women are widowed, some are divorced which usually means that the husband left his wife to take a second wife. There is no legal proceeding. It is said that a man cannot have sex with his wife from when she is seven months pregnant till perhaps six to nine months post-partum. It is too long a period of abstinence so many men just take up with another woman leaving their wives to fend for themselves.
A distraught twenty-five year-old woman with her two-year-old girl is in just such a situation, she survives by selling what she grows which seems to be common here. Women sit or lie by the roadside with a few heads of cabbages, a cluster of tomatoes or potatoes, a stack of wood, a small container of beans trying to sell them to get a few kwacha. Almost all the women who come to the clinic wear no shoes which I was told are too expensive for them.
As I walked out a little boy caught sight of me and ran away crying. He was terrified of me, probably his first time seeing a light-skinned person. Finally in the safe embrace of his grandmother I reached out with my hand which he took and was surprised to find that nothing untoward happened to him after all.