Essential health services still vital during the COVID-19 pandemic

Cooperating partners through UNICEF have helped provide essential medicines and supplies

Tiwine Muchipa
Zambian nurse with a face mask.
14 June 2021

“The COVID-19 pandemic overwhelmed us healthcare staff with five having tested positive,” said nurse-in-charge Mrs Grace Chilongo at the Chilanga health centre, south of Zambia’s capital city Lusaka.

“Yet service provision had to continue,” she says. “We had a sudden decrease in the numbers of people seeking healthcare services. We had to find ways to ensure that people in the community received proper healthcare services and did not just stay home.”

The health centre, which serves a population of around 23,000 people, started their outreach work with those closest at hand - educating those visiting the centre so that they left with a good understanding of the COVID-19 public health guidelines and the need to continue using health care services.

Thanks to the arrival of personal protective equipment (PPE) including masks, they were also able to improve infection prevention and control and make the health centre a safer place for staff and visitors.

“With these initiatives in place and the PPE availability, the number of community members coming to receive professional medical healthcare services has increased leading to an increased demand for essential medicines,” said Mrs Chilongo.

A worker examines boxes of supplies at ZAMMSA

The Ministry of Health has underlined the importance of continuing to support regular essential health services to ensure the COVID-19 pandemic does not create a wider health crisis and undermine years of progress.

With support from the Federal Republic of Germany through the KFW Development Bank, the Swedish international development cooperation agency (Sida), the World Bank and UK aid from the British people, UNICEF has been able to provide health supplies and medicines in interagency emergency health kits to cover the needs of 5.46 million people in Zambia.

Mr. Samson Chewe oversees the pharmaceutical logistics at the health centre explained briefly how the distribution is done.

“Essential medicines demand has been really high as the district hub covers for approximately 36 health centres and facilities,” he said. “In March 2021, the district hub received a total of 50 boxes. This came at the right time as there was a demand for essential drugs by facilities which had been faced with some shortages. These supplementary kits, have helped cushion the availability of essential drugs in facilities.”

Doctor in a UNICEF shirt examines medicine boxes

At nearby Mount Makulu Health Centre, Beryl Kapasha explained how the medicines are dispensed to the patients.

“As a health centre, we are grateful to have received the essential medicines and supplementary kits from UNICEF and its partners,” she said. “Supply of drugs is usually limited as the health centre services a vast community. The essential medicines received have really helped provide a cushion - as a facility we had experienced some challenges accessing some of the drugs that we now have in store,” said Ms. Kapasha.

Woman receives medicines from a nurse through a window

UNICEF and its partners Sida, FCDO, KfW and the World Bank have procured 4,074 health kits containing essential medicines which have been distributed to all ten provinces of Zambia to help maintain essential health services during the COVID-19 pandemic.

-Tiwine Muchipa – Communications and Youth Engagement Associate, UNICEF Zambia