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Dispatches From Africa: In Zambia, Parents Face Impossible Choices

111011_lusaka18-month-old Michael Mkaridawase in a malnutrition ward at the University Training Hospital in Lusaka, Zambia. Mid-October is the beginning of the hunger season in Zambia. 

A few days ago, my son Emil turned 2 years old. We celebrated his birthday by baking him a delicious cake and showering him with many gifts and presents. Family and friends called our home all day long wishing him a happy birthday. It was truly a joyous occasion!

The following day, we went to his standard two-year check up. We got up early and I took him to the doctor’s office. Upon arrival, we were escorted by staff to a vacant room where his height, weight, and head size were measured.  And to my pleasure, all measurements indicated that his physical development was not only above average, but excellent for a child his age. He then received an overall examination with all good reports. And then, of course, it was time for a shot. I think I was more nervous and fearful than my boy, but he took his one shot like a little champ.  After all was said and done, we left the doctor’s office with Emil's clean bill of health.

What a privilege it is to have access to nutritious food, doctors, and medicine to ensure the good health and well-being of our children. Too often, we take such privileges for granted because they seem so normal in our everyday lives. During my first day in Zambia, however, I quickly realized that access to such things is not normal at all for many people in this world.

I learned that in Zambia, 45 percent of children under 5 years old are stunted in growth because of a lack of access to nutritious food and medicines, and almost 21 percent are severely stunted according to the World Health Organization. Such statistics are startling. In addition, what really broke my heart was to learn that HIV positive mothers that give birth to HIV negative children are confronted with an impossible dilemma as it relates to the feeding of their children. Due to the lack of access to baby formula--which is often dependent upon access to clean and safe drinking water--the only viable option to ensure their children are nourished is to breastfeed them, while knowing that there is a 30 percent chance their babies will contract HIV. And many do just that because they have no other alternative. No parent should be forced to make such choices, especially when we know things can be different.

My job is to build a voice for advocacy amongst African Americans for Africa. This is one issue, in particular, that all African Americans should be vocal about now!

Derrick-Boykin Derrick Boykin is an associate for African American Leadership Outreach for Bread for the World.




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