Village clinics ease access to healthcare
By Felix Malamula
Mzimba March 23, 2011: A UNICEF vehicle gets stuck in mud at Kazuni about seven kilometres south of Mpherembe Health Centre in Mzimba district, which is northern part of Malawi. The vehicle, with UNICEF staff is on its way to a village clinic at Elunyeni in the district.
After ten minutes of hard work, the vehicle is pushed out of the mud and the travel to Elunyeni continues. Eight minutes later the car slows down to a warm welcome by a group of villagers and local leaders who anxiously kept waiting for hours for the team to arrive.
When told of the ordeal, the villagers and their leaders seem not surprised with the news. Getting stuck in mud is no longer surprising to them. It has been part of their lives for long now, and therefore no reason to get surprised.
“That’s what we go through here almost on a daily basis, more especially during this rainy season. Our roads are always bad,” says Inkosana Jere, a traditional leader.
“But then you can imagine that if such a powerful car like this gets stuck in the mud, what more with us who don’t even have a motorcycle for travelling?” reasoned Jere.
Mzimba’s terrain presents many difficulties to providers of different services and products. Mzimba is hilly and as expected mobility is a problem. It remains one of the districts with many hard-to-reach places like Elunyeni.
Health centres, for instance, are far apart and it takes endurance for many residents to access medical care. The situation becomes even tougher for children who rely on someone to lift them to a health facility, risking their survival in the process.
In response, UNICEF, Malawi Government and other partners came up with Village Clinics under the Community Case Management initiative targeting children between two months old and five years. The aim is to achieve timely family recognition of danger signs for the child, prompt seeking of care, proper assessment of the child and referral of severely ill children among other goals.
Community Case Management initiative is carried out in all the 28 districts Malawi has, with ten of the 28 districts under the care of UNICEF. Elunyeni is one of the 652 village clinics found in the ten districts, and the residents are excited.
“Whoever came up with this idea of having such a facility should be praised. Our children are saved here. We don’t have to go to Mpherembe for the illness of our children. This is wonderful,” said Chrissie Gondwe, with a two year old child, Temwanani Mvalo in her hands.
Two year old Temwanani, Gondwe’s grandson has an eye infection, and is already under the care of Edward Nyondo, the HSA for Elunyeni. Gondwe and her daughter are from Sobola village, about 2 kilometres from the clinic.
This was not the case previously. A mere fever forced us to endure the long distance to Mpherembe just to ensure that our children access medication. We are grateful.” She added.
Good as it may be, the successful story of Community Case Management in Mzimba is being tainted by shortage of drugs in some of the village clinics. For Elunyeni, drug supplies come from Mpherembe Health Centre, about 23 kilometres from Mpherembe, the nearest health centre.
Village clinic committee members are tasked with the responsibility of collecting the supplies from the health centre. However, they rarely come back successful.
“The problem is that every time we go to Mpherembe, we are told our drugs are not there and we end up coming back empty handed. It’s a concern really,” said Ntchindi Gondwe, a member of the village clinic committee.
For two weeks, Elunyeni Village Clinic has had no drugs forcing Nyondo, to close temporarily waiting for drugs.
“The problem is not where the drugs are coming from but Mpherembe. As a district, we send all the drugs but I think it is at Mpherembe where the problem is,” said Nyondo.