BLANTYRE, MALAWI (AFP, Reuters) - American pop superstar Madonna on Tuesday (July 11) took her four adopted Malawian children back to their home country for the opening of a children's hospital that her charity built.
Named after her adopted daughter, the Mercy James Institute for Paediatric Surgery and Intensive Care located in Blantyre, Malawi's second-largest city, is the first such facility built in the country by Madonna's Raising Malawi.
"We will ensure that not only will it be a world-class children's hospital, but also a superior centre of learning. This is as much about healing as it is about empowerment," Madonna said at the hospital's official opening.
The singer adopted Malawians David Banda and Mercy James, both aged 11, in 2006 and 2009, respectively, and twins Esther and Stella Mwale, aged four, this year. She has two other children, Lourdes and Rocco, from her previous relationships.
Speaking at the event, Mercy James drew applause from the crowd after saying: "Many kids and many lives will be saved. Thank you mum, you're the bomb."
Madonna established the non-profit Raising Malawi in 2006 to provide health and education, particularly for girls. The charity has built 10 schools in Malawi, according to its website.
Madonna criticised Malawi's slow pace of law reform, saying it nearly prevented her from adopting Mercy James. "It was not an easy battle," said Madonna, her voice cracking with emotion, as she stood near her daughter.
"The judge refused me because I was recently divorced. We hired lawyers, went to the Supreme Court. But I never gave up, I never backed down," added the 58-year-old, who previously stirred anger among some Malawians as they felt the government had allowed her to skirt laws that ban non-residents from adopting.
"I fought for Mercy and won. We fought for this hospital and won. Love conquers all."
Madonna then danced to a local song with Malawi's First Lady Gertrude Mutharika.
President Peter Mutharika, who attended the hospital's launch, said Madonna "is a symbol of a motherly spirit" and that the hospital was the country's "national pride".
Health Minister Peter Kumpalume said the hospital would help save lives of newborns in a country where infant mortality is still one of the highest in the world, but steadily declining. "For our part, we will fully support the facility, we are bringing in doctors and drugs," he said.
Malawi's infant mortality rate declined to 42 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2016 from 135 deaths in 1992, government data shows.