The moan escalates to a wail that pierces the heart of every parent in the children's ward. "The baby has collapsed," whispers the head...

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The moan escalates to a wail that pierces the heart of every parent in the children’s ward.

“The baby has collapsed,” whispers the head nurse.

Died, she means.

His mother doubles over, howling her grief.

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The nurse translates: “She says: God hates me. He took my child.”

There’s no diagnosis. No post-mortem.

The baby’s family rushed him to Kabwe General Hospital but arrived too late. Others are luckier.

The 10-month-old boy in the corner crib will survive, the nurse says with a smile. Like most of the other patients, he’s suffering from malaria. But his mother, who sits in a chair by his side, got him to the hospital in time — before the fever seized his brain and his lungs became so congested he couldn’t breathe.

In the next bed, a 3-year-old sits up, teetering slightly. When he arrived a week ago, he couldn’t move.

Only one of the young patients makes any noise. The girl is 9 months old but looks younger. Her mother has been too sick to nurse. The baby is malnourished, dehydrated and has pneumonia on top of malaria and diarrhea. She’s probably also infected with HIV — like her mother, hospitalized in an adjacent ward.

As the child cries and struggles against the IV needle in her hand, her grandmother holds a teaspoon of water to her lips.

The nurse looks sad. Children like this, she says, with so many problems … Her voice trails off.

Outside the ward, on a walkway bordered with daisies and roses, the bereaved mother shuffles away, still sobbing. She’s flanked by two female relatives. One offers a supporting arm. The other carries a tiny bundle.

— Sandi Doughton

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