Home Stories Quality Emergency Health Care for Mom and Baby — Even on a Boat in a Rain Storm 

Quality Emergency Health Care for Mom and Baby — Even on a Boat in a Rain Storm 

Linda Bwembya and her son Isaiah, who is healthy and thriving after a harrowing birth. Photos by Jhpiego/Francis Kaira

Isaiah’s birth day is one his mother will never forget. 

Rain was falling on her island home in Lake Bangweulu when Linda Bwembya’s labor pains began. She sought care at the local health center, where she fully expected to give birth as she had with her first child. But a Jhpiego-trained nurse examined Linda and realized the young mother had a potentially life-threatening complication, obstructed labor. The nurse recommended Linda be immediately transported to a larger health facility — a boat ride away. 

Scared of what would happen next, Linda agreed to make the journey. While in transit, the boat got lost in a heavy rain and had to anchor for the night. By the time the boat arrived on shore, nearly 24 hours later, Linda and her baby were in distress. Dr. Nicholas Sakala, who met the boat when it arrived, examined Linda, recognized the gravity of the situation, and decided to accompany her to the nearest hospital where she could get a cesarean section. 

Dr. Sakala was ready to face the next challenge because of the training and mentorship in emergency obstetric and newborn care he received through the U.S. Agency for International Development-funded Family Health and Nutrition Activity, led by Jhpiego.

As they waited for an ambulance, Dr. Sakala monitored Linda’s condition. 

I noticed the baby crowning . . . [and] I immediately conducted the delivery on the boat. The [umbilical] cord was around the neck two times and I quickly slipped it over the baby’s head to free the neck. Upon delivery, the baby could not cry. I started neonatal resuscitation and the baby cried.”

Dr. Nicholas Sakala

He then turned his attention to Linda, who was weak and bleeding heavily. Dr. Sakala managed to control the bleeding and prepared mother and baby for the next leg of the journey—a 90-minute ride to Samfya District Hospital. Upon their arrival, nurses examined mom and baby and provided the care they required after their harrowing experience. 

Within three days, Linda and baby Isaiah were on their way home.

Today, Linda and her fisherman husband delight in their healthy and thriving son. Recalling Isaiah’s birth, Linda thanked Dr. Sakala for “saving my life and that of my baby.”

“Had it not been for him, both my baby and I would not have been alive today,” she said. “He did a commendable job and I am always grateful to him.”

For his part, Dr. Sakala credited the emergency preparedness training he received in managing complications at birth as well as the mentorship for strengthening his skills and confidence, “yielding the desired results in saving the lives of the women and the babies.”

The Family and Nutrition Activity is a five-year project focused on strengthening the capacity of the Zambian public health system to sustainably deliver reproductive, maternal, newborn, child and adolescent health and nutrition services through improving service-delivery capacity, health management and financial systems, and engagement of communities in their health. This project works in tandem with the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency’s program to strengthen continuum of care. Other consortium partners include Churches Health Association of Zambia, Copper Rose Zambia, Johns Hopkins University International Vaccine Access Center and Bloomberg School of Public Health, the Manoff Group and Thinkwell.

Francis Kaira is the knowledge management and communications officer and Charity Bwalya serves as the maternal and newborn health advisor in Jhpiego’s Zambia office.

Jhpiego believes that when women are healthy, families and communities are strong. We won’t rest until all women and their families—no matter where they live—can access the health care they need to pursue happy and productive lives.

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