ZAMBIA: The Adulterous Father

Like many women in Zambia, when Ngoza Simwanza was pregnant with her firstborn child, she relied on a Traditional Birth Attendant to address complications. The consequences were dire. Today, she advocates for every woman to have access to safe medical care.

"We must unite as women to make Zambia a safe place to deliver a child."

"Nafwa ine mumala!" I cried out to my grandmother, meaning, "These stomach pains will kill me!"

I was four months pregnant and had for the past two days been experiencing sharp abdominal pains and intermittent bleeding.

Ba mbuya (meaning grandma in my native language) quickly rushed to my bedside, took me in her arms, and looked at me with pity-filled eyes. "I pity you Chipasha," she said to me, "for you are suffering for your husband’s wrong doing." She then handed me a small bowl containing a paste of herbs which she instructed me to insert into my vagina.

A wide spread belief in Zambia is that if the father to the unborn is unfaithful during the pregnancy, the woman will have complications that might ultimately lead to miscarriage. To remedy this, women found in such situations usually seek advice from Traditional Birth Attendants and Traditional Doctors who give them Traditional medicines like those my grandmother gave me.

Four days later, the situation seemed to worsen even though I had used the medicines Ba mbuya had given me as per her instruction. My husband constantly pleaded with me to seek professional medical help. I was reluctant to heed his advice because I did not know for sure whether he genuinely cared for me or if he was just trying to cover up his promiscuity.

After a week of excruciating pain, I eventually went to the hospital. The nearest facility was in a town called Kitwe, which was 30km from my village, Kamfinsa.

By the time we got there, I was bleeding heavily. After examination, I was told I was threatening miscarriage. A few hours later, I lost the baby. I could not believe I had lost my first child; the bond I had lost with my unborn was inexplicable. I felt a rollercoaster of emotions; I was numb, I was in disbelief, I was angry, but above all I was filled with guilt.

I stayed in hospital for two more days for a dilation and curettage to be performed. This procedure is performed in order to remove tissue that is not expelled from the body after a miscarriage or abortion. It was during this operation that the doctor discovered I had undergone genital mutilation. I did not get why the doctor seemed to be against it as that was our tradition. He sighed as he began to talk me through the complications that might have arisen during childbirth because of the mutilation.

This scenario was the order of the day in Zambia in the 1980s. By the late 1990s maternal health related fatalities reduced by 50%. This reduction can be attributed greatly to an increase in literacy levels.

Women learned that they have rights and can speak out against traditional remedies imposed on them by their elders. They also learned about the benefits of seeking professional health care as opposed to traditional doctors.

Unfortunately, this success was only achieved in urban areas. The situation in rural areas is as it was in the 1980s. That’s a problem in a country where the urban/rural divide is high, with around 60% of the population concentrated in rural areas.

Traditional beliefs and myths are a major blow to maternal health. Instead of going to hospitals, people choose to seek help from traditional healers who cite mythical reasons for illness and hence prescribe herbs and concoctions that may be detrimental to health.

More hospitals must be constructed near villages with trained medical personnel. Here, women must be thoroughly taught how to take care of themselves and about the dangers of using unknown remedies.

The campaign to reduce the maternal mortality rate is not an easy one but the biggest step that can be taken is that of reducing illiteracy levels. No one should have to go through the pain of losing a child due to ignorance. We must unite as women to make Zambia a safe place to deliver a child, for our children and our women are our future.

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Editor's Note

This story was produced in collaboration with the International Reporting Project and World Pulse. In July 2013, Managing Editor Corine Milano traveled to Zambia as an IRP Fellow to meet with experts on global health issues; go on site visits to some of this country’s most successful projects; and to work with World Pulse community members to tell their stories about global health in their country. Special thanks to Tubalemye Mutwale, who helped Ngoza with her story.

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Comment on this Editorial


Hi Ngoza,

Wonderful wonderful article. Very realistic and written so very well that it captures and keeps the readers attention. I have an NGO in LIvingstone Zambia called I AM ONE IN A MILLION. I am there 6 times a year and focus on street orphans and vulnerable children. Everything you say is true. I wish more people would comment on your article because it is so important.

You mention that literacy in the number one answer. When you say literacy do you mean schooling in general or are you talking specifically about giving knowledge and information to women about pregnancy and child bearing? There is a big difference. I think you mean the latter.

I really look forward to hearing from you. Thank you for expressing your knowledge and giving voice to this huge huge problem. I am thinking now of how I can help in Livingstone with this problem so I look forward to your answer.

Ubuntu (I am who I am because of who we are together),


Wendy Stebbins Founder/CEO I AM ONE IN A MILLION Non-Profit Organization focused on helping street orphans and vulnerable children in Livingstone, Zambia Africa.

What town in Zambia do you live in?


Wendy Stebbins Founder/CEO I AM ONE IN A MILLION Non-Profit Organization focused on helping street orphans and vulnerable children in Livingstone, Zambia Africa.

Hi Ngoza, Thanks for sharing your story, this is very informative for all women , men and young people. Its important that we all understand the implication of the genital Mutilation and other practices on A woman's health and that of her baby. Am encouraged by the bold step you took to seek medication which opened your understanding on the issues among others that women go through and thus gave you the courage to speak out and be an advocate of Change. Brave and courageous women like you have a huge responsibility of making major steps in communities now and in the future. AFRICA is proud of your contribution to society and humanity. Keep up the good work.


This story brings tears to my eyes because you have told it with such compassion and skill. I know very little about the affects of genital mutilation. Will Ngoza be able to go on and have healthy pregnancies? If she carries a child to term, would she be offered Cesarean section?

Blessings to you for you attempts to help her spirit, if not also her body, heal. Yvette