I had taken my baby to one of his immunization rounds and in my usual maternal and child health advocacy/outreach duties I was reaching out to fellow mums and striking up conversations when I noticed a particularly tiny baby, I guessed she was just a few days old. The baby’s mum said she was actually a month old. She explained her baby had what she called “Nza” that she claimed makes newborns sick and wasted. She said orthodox medicine doesn’t treat the condition so the baby was being treated the trado-medical way. I remember imagining how this very tender and weak-looking baby is made to drink concoctions of herbs and roots. She weighed 2.3kg.
As if that wasn’t enough shock for the day, I noticed another girl of about 2-3 years old who had marks on her forehead and cheeks. Deep, straight marks like the ones seen on Benin masks. Her mum said she (the girl) is always sick so they figured out she was an Ogbanje and had to give her those scars to cut her ties with the spirit world. At that moment I wished there was a child welfare policy in our country which allows children to be taken from their incapable parents, as I heard exists in the West. On a second thought, I believe these mums were simply uninformed. They didn’t know any better. Most mums do what they think is best for their children. If only they knew how much harm they were exposing them to.
The sad thing is some of these harmful beliefs and practices have gone on for too long and are steadfastly held unto by many rural-dwelling mums. These mums often refuse being followed-up by health workers for fear of God-knows-what. They always claim to be on top of the situation. I often imagine how challenging it is for the nurses and doctors in rural areas. They must have really seen it all.
I remember imagining how a child gets disadvantaged simply by being born by a particular person or in a particular environment. At that moment, the meaning of “Social Determinants of Health” sunk in.