Amina sits under her small, shaded patio in front of her mud brick house, filled with joy as she rocks her 3-month-old twins in her arms. Although she has a smile on her face, her heart bears scars from the pain of losing three precious babies.
Years before, Amina had given birth to twins — boys Waiswa and Kato. Kato died during labor. Heartbreakingly, Amina then suffered a miscarriage that she thought was caused by bewitchment. The doctor’s report, however, indicated that the miscarriage was due to malaria.
When Amina became pregnant again with a baby girl, she chose a traditional birth attendant. Two days after her daughter’s birth, Amina woke up at 7am to nurse the baby. The 2-day-old child was crying incessantly. The baby girl’s temperature had been high for a couple of hours, so Amina had mixed a concoction of local herbs that she hoped would bring down the fever. Her birth attendant had advised her that the herbs would encourage evil spirits to leave the little girl.
“I didn’t know better how to treat a fever then,” says 27-year-old Amina. “I thought that local herbs would do because I had used them for most of my life and all through my pregnancy. We listened to friends and so many people who didn’t believe in clinical medicine.” Fred, Amina’s husband, adds, “We used different concoctions to treat the baby’s fever and steered away from hospitals for fear of being shunned by the community that believed local herbs were the answer to sickness.”
The couple hoped the herbs would cure their daughter’s fevers and banish the threat of death that hovered over her. Instead, the baby became anemic. Her temperature kept rising. Without medical attention, the little girl breathed her last breath.
She was the third child Amina had lost to malaria.
Amina was devastated. Her entire body ached, and her heart felt faint. She blamed herself. “I thought to myself, why didn’t I go to hospital after delivery to find out what was wrong with my baby? I had hope for a girl, but there I was, watching her die.”
Amina’s response to her child’s fever is common in her community. Due to a lack of education and medical misinformation, many locals are suspicious of doctors and don’t believe that malaria is real. William, the chairperson at the Compassion Center in Maanga, Uganda, says locals wondered why Amina had lost so many children and assumed it was because of witchcraft.
In this community, malaria is common. Doctors note that many patients visit traditional herbalists instead of seeing medical professionals. “Most women said that their husbands stopped them from coming to hospital to be educated about malaria and the need for hospital delivery,” says Eunice, a nurse at Masafu Hospital.