Zambian student has big plans

Lweendo “Lulu” Siamaambo, a freshman nursing major at John Brown University, is driven to improve health care in her home country, Zambia.

Siamaambo says that, as a nurse in her country, she wants to work with infants and pregnant women because of their high mortality rates.

According to 2014 data from the CIA World Factbook, Zambia has the 17th highest infant mortality rate in the world, with an estimated 66.62 deaths per 1,000 live births per year of infants under the age of one. In comparison, the U.S. has an estimated 6.17 deaths per 1,000 live births, about 10 times less than in Zambia.

As for mothers, Zambia ranks 26 out of 184 countries in maternal mortality rate, according to 2010 CIA World Factbook data. It is estimated that 440 Zambian women die due to pregnancy out of every 100,000 live births. This mortality rate is about 21 times higher in Zambia than in the U.S.

Siamaambo said that high mortality rates are connected to poor health care in her country. She said that, in a hospital, there might be only one doctor, who could see up to 100 patients per day. Being understaffed, nurses may do the doctor’s job, even if they’re not qualified.

Accessibility is an issue as well.

“Some people walk more than 10 days to come to a hospital,” Siamaambo said.

Siamaambo said some women go their entire pregnancies without seeing a doctor, either because they can’t afford to go to the hospital or are afraid of lack of privacy and physical abuse.

“The nurses in Zambia have a reputation of being mean,” Siamaambo said.

Besides poor medical care, pregnant women may face malnutrition, unclean drinking water, or HIV/AIDS.

Siamaambo said that, in her country, “being pregnant is pretty much a death sentence.”

When pregnant women die, any surviving children may be orphaned. According to 2013 data from UNICEF, Zambia has an estimated 1.4 million orphans, of which about 600,000 are orphaned due to AIDS.

Over Christmas break, Siamaambo, her husband and five children traveled to Zambia to visit family. There Siamaambo helped care for children at her mother’s orphanage called Haven.

Siamaambo’s mother, Cecilia Siafwiyo Kalulu, started Haven when she came across a burial where a live child was being buried with his mother. Siamaambo explained that in rural Zambia a newborn may be buried with its mother, since the child has almost no chance of living without her.

Kalulu commanded that the baby be taken out of the burial hole and began to care for him. After that, people started bringing infants to her door, and an orphanage was founded in her home.

Siamaambo said she gets her passion to make a difference from her mother. Besides becoming a nurse and working to improve the health care system from the inside, Siamaambo hopes to raise awareness by making a documentary.

Siamaambo, her husband, Andrew Kumalo, and Kumalo’s older brother, Jason Kumalo, are working together on this plan. Andrew Kumalo said the documentary will bring attention to Zambia’s high infant mortality rate while also showing how the people of Haven orphanage are saving lives.

“It’s one of those things that, if you’re not in it, a lot of people just don’t care,” Andrew Kumalo said of Zambia’s infant mortality rate.

Kumalo also hopes to use the documentary to promote Haven and show donors how their money is helping.

Kumalo said the finished documentary is still several years away. Documentaries can take up to a year or two to shoot, and this documentary is still in the planning stage, he said. However, it is in progress.

Kumalo arrived in Zambia on Thursday, April 16 and plans to be back in the states Saturday, May 2. He said his goals for this trip are to see family and begin working out the logistics for filming.

“My next thing, when I go home, is where we can start and what permissions we need,” Kumalo said.

Edited at 2:47 p.m. on 5/7/2015 to avoid a sweeping generalization about the treatment of orphaned infants in all of Zambia. The burial of live infants with their mothers is something that happens in rural less-developed parts of Zambia, said Siamaambo, and does not reflect behavior in all of Zambia.