National Public Radio (NPR) News’ All Things Considered recently launched a fascinating summer-long series, “Beginnings,” that will look at pregnancy, childbirth and parenting practices around the world. As part of the series, NPR.org also launched “The Baby Project,” a blog following eight pregnant women from across the U.S., representing a range of socioeconomic backgrounds and family situations, who are all due to give birth this summer. The moms will blog about their final weeks of pregnancy and first weeks with their new babies (we’re seriously hooked—the first “Baby Project” baby has already arrived!).
We invited All Things Considered co-host Melissa Block, a mom herself, who traveled to Mozambique to report for “Beginnings,” to share some of what struck her the most about what she saw of maternal health and family life while there.
© NPR, Andrea Hsu
I’m sitting on a mat on the ground in the rural village of Malehice in Mozambique, talking with women about their experiences with childbirth, when I first see eight-year-old Muianga. He’s tiny—much smaller than an eight-year-old we’d see in the U.S.—but still is carrying his sixteen-month-old sister Virginia on his back, bundled tightly in a sling.
I’ve come to Mozambique for NPR as part of a series of reports on women and childbirth that we’re calling “Beginnings.” We’ll hear about Muianga and Virginia’s family in my report that airs tomorrow, July 6th, on All Things Considered.
As I spend time talking with the children’s mother, Acacia, I learn that she and her husband are both HIV positive. Their stories are sadly typical of this part of Mozambique: like many men in Gaza province, Acacia’s husband works in the mines in South Africa. Prostitution is rampant there, as is HIV. Often, the men bring the virus home to their wives. As a result, the HIV infection rates in Gaza province are mind-boggling: 30% of women ages 15-49 are HIV positive.
Acacia tells me she doesn’t know how her husband contracted HIV. He tested positive in 2007 and urged her to get tested, too, but she waited. She was afraid, and worried she’d be shunned by the community. Acacia got terribly sick and lost a great deal of weight. She was six months pregnant with Virginia when she finally got tested and learned she too was HIV positive.
Thankfully, Acacia was put on a drug regimen during pregnancy that substantially lowers the risk of transmission of HIV from mother to child, and Virginia has tested negative. Now that Acacia is taking drugs to fight HIV, she’s healthier and stronger.
Acacia is 33 years old, and has already suffered the deaths of two children. This is another staggering statistic I confront in Mozambique: one out of seven children born there won’t live to reach the age of five. One out of ten dies in their first year.
As we talk, Virginia stands at her mother’s knee, as Acacia gently spoons a meal of rice and beans into her daughter’s hungry mouth.
I watch this happy, everyday moment between mother and child, and can’t help but wonder: what is the future for these children, with two HIV positive parents? When I ask Acacia about the fears and challenges of living with HIV, she tells me, “I’m scared of dying and leaving my children while they’re still very young…. It does scare me, because they will suffer…. But if the medication really works, I’m not going to die of HIV.”
Virginia toddles away in her bright pink dress, a silver hoop earring shining from one ear. Meanwhile, eight-year-old Muianga has tied a piece of string to a stick. As he plays with his simple, homemade toy, a look of proud delight illuminates his face. I’m left with a wash of emotions: joy in his sense of wonder, admiration for how well he looks after his sister, concern for the family’s future. But layered in there, too, is a jolt of shame as I think about the disproportionate abundance in my own daughter’s life.
Read more of Melissa’s reporting on maternal health in Mozambique:
Drug Given to Moms After Childbirth Sparks Controversy
In Mozambique, Grim Prospects for Mother and Child