Reaching children through the Child Health Week
By Felix Malamula
Lilongwe, 13 May 2011: For parents, especially mothers, the Child Health Week held in May was an important one. They abandoned their daily chores, strapped babies to their backs, and walked long distances to the health centres to have their young children immunized against common childhood diseases.
At the health centre, the children are vaccinated against measles and receive deworming tablets, zinc, vitamins, and other medications. At Mitundu Health Centre on the outskirts of Lilongwe, Malawi’s capital, children, escorted by their mothers, come in their droves.
“We plan to reach out to about 19,000 children by the end of the week,” says Jerkins Banda, the environmental health officer. “We hope that we will manage to reach these numbers, despite the short notice that we gave to parents,” he added.
While the Child Health Weeks have been conducted in Malawi for several years, confirmation of the dates for this year came only a week before. It had to take hard work, according to Banda, to publicize the dates.
“It was too short. We only knew about it a week before and we had to send the messages to the parents through traditional leaders and our Health Surveillance Assistants (HSAs) who reside in those locations,” he said.
Mitundu Health Centre has 56 HSAs, all of whom were engaged in mobilizing the community. Each HSA was also given a medical kit as part of the clinic’s community outreach programme. The aim, according to John Kampulazi, the senior health surveillance assistant, was to minimise the distances that mothers walked to the health centre by ensuring that the HSAs took the service as close to communities as possible.
“Mitundu Health Centre has a very big catchment area. Many mothers walk long distances to get here. With the HSAs posted to the communities, we ensure that the mothers don’t have to walk long distances. In that way, we are assured that every child will be covered.”
The Child Health Weeks target children aged between six months and five years. Out of the 19,000 children Mitundu hoped to reach, 5,000 were aged one year and below, a target Kampulazi described as realistic.
“We will sit down to review the whole exercise after all the data from the HSAs has arrived but I am optimistic that we will achieve our targets,” he says.
The administration of abendazole will ensure that children are dewormed. Kampulazi says worm infestation among children is a common problem in Mitundu and he attributes it to poor sanitation and hygiene.
“We are also providing malaria medication. Malaria is also a common problem here. We emphasize the importance of mothers sleeping with their children in insecticide-treated mosquito nets but it seems adherence is still a problem, even if the nets are there.”