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Malawi — He emerged at 3 a.m., unaware of the significance of his birth in a hospital in Malawi’s Mangochi district. The boy, born to Mayamiko Kachipande just three hours after the global watershed of midnight on 31 October 2011, was chosen as the country’s 7 Billion Baby, so becoming an important symbol for Malawi as the world marked a population milestone of 7 billion people.

His birth was significant because in his district the current population of 881,085 is growing at a rate of 3.7 per cent – just one area experiencing a boom in a country recording an unprecedented population growth.

Also significantly, the newborn boy’s district has seen a rise in the number of young mothers, resulting in more cases of women suffering the indignity and shame of obstetric fistula, according to Ms. Gift Malunga, UNFPA deputy country representative. This involves urinal or faecal incontinence and mostly results from early pregnancy. 

UNFPA has made significant inroads in dealing with maternal problems in Malawi, including lowering the high maternal mortality rate.

Helping women with fistula

The tiny boy’s district ranks among the worst for fistula in Malawi, along with Thyolo, Mchinji, Phalombe and Nkhatabay, according to Ms. Grace Hiwa, UNFPA National Programme Officer for Reproductive Health. She has helped organise a fistula camp in Thyolo district, 90 kilometres south of Blantyre, and where over 100 women are expected to receive help in the course of a month in November and December.

Malawi's 7 Billion Baby is part of an unprecedented population boom in the country.

Visiting surgeons will deal with the most complicated cases and will help train local clinicians in the procedures. Ms. Hiwa is providing technical assistance to the Malawi Government for the camp. The interventions have significantly improved the lives of more than 400 women who have been treated at the fistula camps since they were launched in 2009, she said.

Resuming their rightful place in society

It may seem a small gesture considering the scale of the problem, but for those women suffering from the condition, the fistula camp offering corrective surgery makes a world of difference. It allows them to resume their rightful place in society with dignity and confidence. And to spread the word that the debilitating condition is not a burden they need to carry for life because solutions exist – including pre-emptive ones.

It helps that they will come to understand what causes fistula, come to realise that it's a medical condition and not a form of 'punishment' for any perceived wrongdoing, as some communities believe. In these communities they are likely to become vocal and influential advocates against early pregnancy and child marriage, through gaining knowledge.

Perhaps by the time Malawi’s symbolic 7 Billion Baby has grown into an adult and seeks a wife, the woman he chooses will be empowered enough to marry later, bear children later, space them adequately, and choose her desired number of offspring - leading to a better quality of life for her family. Perhaps by then, this boy’s message will have been received. 

— Reported by Lindsay Barnes

See Malawi’s media reports on the 7 billion babies: