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Meet a health surveillance assistant with a heart to serve in Malawi



By Joseph Scott

CHANTHUNTHU, Malawi, 27 June 2017 – Nearly a decade ago, health surveillance assistant Noah Chipeta arrived at his new posting in Chanthunthu, situated in Malawi’s Kasungu District. He didn’t think he would be staying long. The small community of 11 villages is isolated – wedged between two rivers, which during the rainy season can cut off the entire area from the outside world.

“I arrived here in 2009,” says Noah. “Back then, there was no health facility or house for me to stay. Most of the time I was working under a tree.” Although it was challenging to work with minimal resources, he could not ignore the needs he saw in the community.

At the time, the community did not have access to health services, and was losing many children to preventable diseases like malaria and diarrhoea. The nearest health centre is about 17 km away, but the connecting dirt roads are in bad shape. When it’s raining, the journey becomes even longer. Those seeking medical help have to avoid the swollen rivers by using another path through the rugged mountains.

© UNICEF Malawi/2017/Hubbard
Noah prepares to prick the finger of three-year-old Trinity Banda, to test her for malaria. He’s able to diagnose and treat illnesses such as malaria, diahrroea and pneumonia in children under five. Since the arrival of HSAs like Noah in communities across Kasungu, the child mortality rate in the district has more than halved.

“There were cases where parents would just give up,” says Noah. “The mountain paths are slippery during the rainy season and it puts the lives of both the parent and sick child at risk. So many would just stay home hoping that the sickness will go away.”

“We have had cases of children either collapsing or dying on the way to the health centre,” says Catherine Chisale, 35, a mother of six from the local community.
But she says that after Noah arrived, the number of deaths has reduced, especially of children.

UNICEF’s support

Noah’s posting at Chanthunthu coincided with the launch of the integrated community case management (ICCM) approach in the area. With UNICEF support, the district health office started training health workers on how to offer basic medical treatment to children in the villages. Noah received the training and for the first time in years, children in the community could access treatment quickly.

“After working here for some months, I was encouraged to stay despite the difficult conditions because the community really appreciated my services,” says Noah. “They had lost so many children to disease. My coming to the area was a big relief for them as they now could access health services closer to their homes.”

© UNICEF Malawi/2017/Hubbard
Noah shells groundnuts for his daughter after a long day of treating children. When he first arrived in the community he didn't expect to stay for long, but has ended up living here for nearly a decade.

The village health clinic provides a ‘one stop shop’ for the local community. Now health services such as antenatal clinic, growth monitoring, immunization and screening for malnutrition are done under one roof. Children who are malnourished also receive ready-to-use therapeutic food (RUTF) at the rural clinic.

“The community has been very supportive of the clinic,” Noah says. “In fact, they contributed by molding bricks and even with the actual construction of the clinic building. UNICEF supported us with metal sheets for the roof.”

In addition to the training and clinic construction, UNICEF has provided essential drugs such as anti-malarials, antibiotics, zinc and oral rehydration, and bicycles for rural health workers to travel easily between the villages in their area.

Although it has been almost 10 years since Noah reported for duty in Chanthuntha, he does not see himself moving any time soon.

“I am now part of this community,” he says. “The village chiefs and the people appreciate my work and I don’t see any reason to move to another place.”

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