COVID-19 myths lead to default in essential health services

Seeking essential health services during COVID-19

Sellina Kainja
Maryam with her 2-year-old son at the under-5 clinic at Mangochi District Hospit
UNICEF Malawi/2020/Malumbo Simwaka
11 September 2020

The biggest toll the COVID-19 pandemic seems to be taking among rural masses in Malawi is the shunning of health services by communities amidst rumours of the pandemic’s prevalence and associated dangers in health centres.

Having heard stories about COVID-19 and how one is susceptible to contract the virus from a hospital, Mangochi resident Maryam M’bisa was convinced that she would not be stepping foot at the hospital any time soon. News doing rounds in her community was that hospitals were now a no-go zone as they had become breeding ground for the pandemic.

However, as fate would have it, Maryam’s two-year-old son fell sick, which forced her into a difficult quandary—to either go to the hospital and seek treatment for her ailing son or stay home and lose her baby to what was probably a curable disease. After noticing that the child had developed a fever, Maryam was determined that going to the hospital was the right thing. And so, she picked up her chitenje, strapped her son on her back and set off for the hospital where her son was attended and treated.

“For the sake of my child, I couldn’t stay home because of some unfounded fears about COVID-19. I fully understand about COVID-19 and how we can prevent it. This is why I always wear a mask,” she said.

Maryam observes that with the advent of COVID-19, healthcare workers have changed their attitude towards patients, especially children.

“They now pay more attention to sick children,” she said. Maryam also observed that the health facilities are now extra clean, and both patients and guardians using the hospital are constantly reminded to keep the hospital premises clean.

“I urge fellow mothers not to be afraid to seek healthcare services even in this time of COVID-19 because we are still getting sick from other illnesses. If my child’s condition does not improve, I will definitely go back to the hospital. This is where we can be assisted,” she said.

Lucia Yahaya, who hails from Namakango Village, Traditional Authority Mponda in the district, concurs with Maryam.

Lucia, who came to the hospital seeking help for her two-year-old son who had a swelling on his right leg, says despite being discouraged by some of her friends, she went to the hospital.

“I was not afraid because I needed my child to be treated. But I made sure I wore a face mask. In the community, we have heard messages about the need to wash hands with soap, wearing masks and social distancing. I urge others not to be afraid of coming to the hospital. They should come, and they will be assisted,” she said.

Clinical Officer, Clement Masoambeta. He deals with patients seeking essential health services everyday
UNICEF Malawi/2020/Malumbo Simwaka
Clinical Officer, Clement Masoambeta. He deals with patients seeking essential health services everyday

Mangochi District Hospital Clinical Officer Clement Masoambeta explained that most of the myths about COVID-19 are due to lack of adequate information.

Masoambeta, however, said the communication for development initiatives taking place in the area, with support from the Ireland Embassy through UNICEF, have helped reduce resistance to some COVID-19 prevention interventions that the hospital is implementing such as checking visitors’ temperature at the entrance of the hospital, washing hands with soap and ensuring that the wards are not crowded.

With support from the Government of Ireland, UNICEF has been working with the Ministry of Health and District Information Offices on battling myths surrounding COVID-19.

“It is important that communities have accurate messaging on COVID-19 to enhance awareness and prevention measures. We’re working closely with our implementing partners on this, and we aim to reach at least 800,000 people,” explains UNICEF Communication for Development Manager, Parvina Muhamedkhojaeva.

“With the correct information, we are a step ahead in fighting the virus, while also making sure that children can continue to receive regular treatment at the hospital,” she said.

Engaging and working with communities is important in ensuring that there is accurate messaging for all groups in the communities. This means working with community leaders, health personnel and implementing partners to improve awareness and enhance positive behaviours towards the prevention of COVID-19.

Access to correct and comprehensive information through strong community engagement builds a strong foundation in ensuring that children continue to receive regular treatment in hospitals.