The "Florence Nightingale" of Malawi saves mothers and babies

Seeing too many mothers die during childbirth has caused a retired nurse and midwife, Charity Salima,to quit her job and try to save mothers and babies in Malawi, the country with the third highest infant mortality rates in the world.

To mothers of Malawi, Salima is like Florence Nightingale. She has used the most basic equipment to single handedly deliver more than 4,000 babies with no deaths in her birth clinic in one of the poorest communities in Malawi.

Salima quit her research job at the University of North Carolina in the United States, then took her pension and a modest $600 loan to open the clinic in the poor urban township known as Area 23 just outside the capital Lilongwe.

The high infant mortality rate is a nationwide problem, with countless tragedies attributed to the lack of decent healthcare facilities.

“Most of the people don’t have transport to take them to the main hospital,” Salima said. “Sometimes labor starts at night, there is no transport available — what do you do?”

Her Achikonde birth clinic, which is strategically located in an area many people can reach on foot,  opened in August 2008. It’s services, including prenatal, birth and post-natal services, are free. 

For Salima, the clinic was a dream she had to wait to fulfill for a long time. She said “Sometimes you have to start the ball rolling before other people come to help you, so I was buying one pillow keeping it, two blankets keeping it.” 

The clinic has no fancy equipment or high-tech devices. It’s based in a small rented house where Salima is on call 24 hours a day.

When asked about the reason for her successful births, Salima said “You can have the best resources in the world but if you are not trained properly you can’t give life…I am somebody that is qualified enough and I am experienced enough. As soon as I see this is not a condition I can deliver here, there and then I transfer the woman to the main hospital.”

Salima deals with other issues too, like trying to discourage mothers from having more children than they can handle, and providing services for HIV-positive mothers.

The clinic relies largely on donations and faces many challenges. In spite of the hard work with no pay, the love the midwife has for her patients keeps her going.

She said “Women … when I die they should remember me and say we had a woman in this community who was so passionate about us, so passionate about our babies and it is our duty to bring live babies to the community, live babies to the country, live babies to Africa.”