Photographs and text by Carlos Martínez

“Mozambicans rather than inhabit
a land, live in an ocean”
Mia Couto, Mozambican Poet and Author

About nine thirty in the morning Joana will arrive at Ilhajosina maternity, a humble house painted in yellow. There is a ward with several iron beds along the walls, another room with scant furniture and a small delivery room with a tiny window without glass through which the warm morning air of this Mozambican winter comes in. It’s the rainy season.

In Mozambique, a country where people are born, get married, have children and see how several of them die without ever being officially recorded anywhere, women follow strictly the schedule of the international vaccination program. Maybe their attitude is rooted in an old order that came about during the long and cruel war years and that in time became welded to the traditions of this “somnambulant land”, as did ghost stories and Portuguese poetry. The same would happen in neighbouring countries.

This unusual tradition is key to the prevention of malaria, one of the three great pandemics – together with AIDS and tuberculosis – which are the scourge of this huge and poverty-stricken region, stretching down from Mount Kenya to the Cape of Good Hope – this vast Subsaharian area, “a place in the world charged with a kind of restless and violent electricity” (Ryszard Kapuscinski, Journalist).

Today the sun beats hard on this island in the Inkomati river, about 120 kilometres North of Maputo. Joana is 27 years old and she was only a child when her country wrote the first chapter of a war that lasted 26 years and turned this corner of Africa into a waste land and a cemetery. The second of her three children died; this baby will be her fourth.

She doesn’t complain at all during her delivery. If she did, the women waiting their turn, while mashing tapioca – or could it be millet – would say that she wants to call the attention of men. People keep going in and out the small delivery room.

Joana smiles. “Her name will be Felicidade”, the midwife says in Portuguese – one of the thirty three languages spoken in Mozambique. She cleans the newborn’s whitish skin with alcohol.Fifteen minutes later, Joana is back on her feet, wrapped in colourful capulanas, carrying her small baby on her back, ready to start her way back home. She will punctually return in three months time in order that Felicidade gets her first series of inoculations scheduled in the international vaccination program.

Nearly one and a half million people die every year in the world of malaria, most of them children under the age of five.Doctors want to take advantage of the visits that women will pay with their youngest children to health centres, to administer the prophylactic treatment which reduces around 60 per cent of the risk of developing malaria.

So far, three combinations of drugs have been put forward in order to prevent malaria and overcome the resistance to traditional treatments, because the latter constitutes one of the main obstacles to control this disease, for which there is yet no vaccine. In countries with limited sanitary infrastructure this popular and complete vaccination network offers new and promising possibilities.

In three months time, Joana will return to the small health centre in Ilhajosina to get her daughter vaccinated with the first three inoculations and the initial dose of medicines against malaria. If hunger, malaria, AIDS, meningitis – “the moon disease” – and tuberculosis allow it, perhaps Felicidade will celebrate her sixth brithday.
(translated from Spanish by Cecilia Ceriani and Raimundo Viana)

More by this author can be seen at - www.carlosmartineztokio.com
For more information on Malaria in Africa vist - mosquito.who.int

“She doesn't complain at all during her delivery. If she did, the women waiting their turn would say that she wants to call the attention of men”

“The ‘dze dze dze’, as the local population calls it, affects about three million Mozambicans every year”

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