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Hungry babies cry across Ngamiland

As we sit outside Maun main clinic for a quick interview, Keamogetse’s (not her real name) begins to rumble.

It is a pitiful, painful sound but the 25-year-old single mother of two is too preoccupied to notice.

She is more concerned with comforting her malnourished four-month-old baby while at the same time stopping her two-year-old from wandering off to worry about her empty stomach.

“He is hungry. Hopefully today we will be given formula milk because he is refusing to drink porridge!” Keamogetse explains, gesturing sadly to her unhappy baby boy as she notes that for the last two-months he has not received the free food supplement from the government clinic.

“Each time I am told the milk is finished. I had only managed to buy two small tins of milk worth around P200, but he fished them within two weeks. I am not working and have no source of income, so I have decided to introduce the baby to solid food.”

The desperate mum says they have been depending on the supplementary feed of the two-year-old daughter, the soya bean meal called Tsabana.

But that has also run out.

“For the past three months, we have not been getting Tsabana. Every time we come to the clinic we find it already depleted. That is what I could be at least feeding the baby,” says the teary-eyed lady, struggling to maintain her composure in front of her children.

She is well aware it is too early to introduce the baby to solids.

However, as she grimly highlights, there is no alternative.

“I cannot watch my baby starve to death. I cannot afford the milk and it is not by choice that I am not breastfeeding. It is due to health reasons. But the nurses say I am only allowed to collect from this clinic as that is where I am registered!”

Blinking back stubborn tears, Keamogetse turns away and reaches for her bag. She retrieves a maize snack for the older child, explaining she used her last coin to buy it so that her daughter does not envy other children’s meal packs.

“This one knows she does not have to cry for what is not hers. Whenever I am able, she gets to enjoy the good food.”

Her turn to weigh her children comes and her baby does not get mandatory immunization because the injection is finished.

“I am told he will be immunized when we come for weighing next month!”

There is no milk either.

Keamogetse’s case is not unusual in Maun and the Ngamiland district, with many parents complaining of a shortage of drugs and supplementary feeds since the beginning of the year.

However, the government insists they have enough medications and all feed supplies are abundant in its storages.

According to the Ngamiland District Health Management Team (DHMT), “It is not true that there is shortage of medicine in our area. Even if we run short of necessary drugs such as paracetamol, customers are given Iburofen for instance.”

The DHMT Public Relations Officer, Batisane Mokgethi added that currently the district is well stocked with vital drugs, which are at 98 percent availability.

“Necessary drugs means they are necessary but not life threatening and vital drugs are those that one cannot live without.”

Mokgethi further denied any shortage of baby milk and supplementary feeds, stating that if clinics have depleted their stock, ‘customers’ were free to collect from other health centres.

For Keamogetse and her hungry children, his words leave a bitter taste.

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