By Simpson Biryabaho, Program Manager, Busia Program, Eastern Uganda
Eighteen-year-old Tabitha Ajiambo, a mother of one in Dabani sub-county, Busia District, bears a sad, faraway look on her face. The reason for Tabitha’s forlorn look becomes obvious when she presents her one-month-old baby, Peace Nabwire. The baby has a very rare condition that stops one’s breath when you first glance at her.
Tabitha’s baby has craniopagus parasiticus, an extremely rare type of parasitic twinning occurring in about 2 to 3 of 5,000,000 births. For craniopagus twins that survive pregnancy or the first few days of life, there is usually little shared brain tissue. Blood supply is a very critical issue.
Tabitha lives with her old grandmother, who hardly has a source of income and 15 grandchildren to look after. With these odds stacked against her, Tabitha sought ways in which she could work to support her family. Her mother and father left her when she was only 11 years old.
So, in January 2019, she made her way to Kenya where she was working as a house help, earning pennies for survival. It was during her stay in Kenya that she conceived her first child by a man unknown to her even to date. This story remains a nightmare: “I only went to Kenya in anticipation of working for a better life and to support my old grandmother. I then got pregnant from there and decided to make my way back home in Uganda,” she says tearfully.
Help through her pregnancy
Thank God for World Vision’s timely and targeted counselling through the use of commcare that ensured Tabitha attends all her antenatal care visits as recommended by the Ministry of Health in Uganda and receives health care messages during her pregnancy.
The nearest facility from her home is approximately 6km away so it would be difficult for her to move frequently to hospital. World Vision supported Olympic Post, an outreach by Dabani Hospital, so Tabitha was able to attend at least four of the recommended antenatal care visits.
“When Tabitha arrived from Kenya, I was quick to pay her a visit and see how she was doing. She disclosed to me that she was pregnant. With the skills that I got from World Vision, I started conducting timely and targeted counselling on her using my commcare phone given to me by World Vision. Fortunately, on her arrival she had visited Bulumbi Health Centre III but because the facility was far from her home, I encouraged her to Olympic post,” says Getrude Auma, a member of a Village Health Team, a structure through which the AIM Health project works.
Peace is born
On 1st June 2020, Tabitha planned to make her way to Dabani Hospital (a private not-for-profit hospital), but the labor pains were so intense, she could barely take a step. Her caretaker rushed her to the hospital on a motorbike.
“I reached Dabani Hospital and received the best possible care from the doctors and midwives. I had a normal delivery, but my baby had two heads,” says Tabitha. The doctors confirmed that the baby needed specialised surgery: “I was referred to Mbale Regional Referral Hospital where the doctors thought I would get a quick surgery,” she adds.
Fearing the worst for her baby, Tabitha escaped from hospital soon after receiving her referral note. The midwives were stunned and made all efforts to get to Tabitha. At home, instead of joy, Tabitha was welcomed with dejection from her family. This left her in even more fear for the life of her baby.
“When I reached home, I was told that those might be spiritual-related things and the baby had to be prayed for. Others told me this baby was not normal and had no chance of living,” narrates a scared Tabitha.
A member of a Village Health Team (VHT) contacted World Vision for urgent support. World Vision was able trace Tabitha and arrangements were made for a meeting with Tabitha’s family and the District Health Team to explain to her family that this was a medical condition that could be reversed through surgery, dispelling the family’s theories of a spiritual attachment. Through the District Health Team, an ambulance was provided that transported Tabitha to Cure Children’s Hospital in Mbale district. World Vision met the cost.
“I thank World Vision so much for paying the bill we could not pay. I feel good and excited because before, I was in fear. I thought my baby was going to die. May God continue blessing World Vision for the good things they do for us,” says Tabitha with a smile.
Tabitha’s grandmother is happy too: “We cannot pay you back because we have nothing comparable to give you based on what you have done for us. We thank you so much,” says Kerenentina Nafula, Tabitha’s grandmother.
The family relies on farming and continues to be hopeful each day that goes by.