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I thought his illness was caused by witchcraft

UNICEF Malawi/2011/Malamula
© UNICEF Malawi/2011/Malamula
Lameck receives an abendazole tablet at Mitundu Health Centre in Lilongwe during the Child Health Week.

By Felix Malamula

Lilongwe, 13 May 2011: Chrissie Tsokalida has just walked more than 20 kilometres to Mitundu Health Centre with her two year-old son Lameck tightly strapped to her back. She is clearly worn out but is not bothered, as long as what has been ailing her son is diagnosed and treated. In the last two weeks, Lameck has been troubled by a combination of fever, vomiting, and appetite loss and in the process shedding off a lot of weight.

“He has been refusing food. When I force him to eat, he vomits,” says Tsokalida, as Efrida Mtekwe, a Health Surveillance Assistants (HSA) at the clinic, checks Lameck for signs of oedema.

“This child is malnourished,” says Mtekwe as she records that fact in Lameck’s health passport, an individualised medical record form. “He needs special attention.”

Tsokalida had been hoping for a quick return home but her son’s condition required him to be admitted to the Nutrition Rehabilitation Unit (NRU) and treated for at least 8 weeks.

Just like the other mothers at the Mitundu Health Centre, Tsokalida had come to the hospital because advertisements had gone out on the airwaves during the Child Health Week exhorting mothers to bring their under-five children for a check-up. Seeing how frail Lameck was, she hoped a lasting solution would be found. 

“I wanted to come here because I knew I would be assisted,” she says.

UNICEF Malawi/2011/Malamula
© UNICEF Malawi/2011/Malamula
Health Surveillance Assistant, Efrida Mtekwe checks Lameck for oedema at Mitundu Health Centre during the Child Health Week.

Lameck is the last of Tsokalida’s three children. She says his problems are not new; his health has been poor for months, reaching a low in the last two weeks. She says it took her so long to seek medical attention because she and her husband have had similar problems with their first two children and they thought Lameck would likewise pull through.

“At first we thought it was something related to witchcraft.”

Lameck was also diagnosed with worms. Worm infestations are common among young children in Mitundu and the surrounding areas, says Jerkins Banda, the senior environmental health officer.

“It is a common problem here. Generally, the cause has to do with poor sanitation and a general lack of hygiene in the communities.”

During Child Health Weeks, conducted throughout the country, children aged between six months and five years receive vaccinations, vitamins, abendazole for treating worms, and zinc, among others. Those with ailments are treated. During the week Lameck was admitted, Mitundu Health Centre alone was targeting 19,000 children.

 

 
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