When she got pregnant three years ago, Mary Yakobe of Maoni Village ,Sub/Traditional Authority (STA) Maoni in Chiradzulu walked a distance of almost eight kilometres to access antenatal services at Nkalo Health Centre in the district.
The long distance made Yakobe’s visits to Nkalo Health Centre for antenatal services erratic.
“I would miss antenatal services on some days because of mobility challenges. I had neither bicycle nor money to hire one,” she laments.
Esnart Malele is another woman from the area who experienced similar challenges. She delivered her two children at Nkalo Health Centre, situated some 10 kilometres away from Maoni Village.
She says because of the long distance, she could not keep her monthly appointments to the antenatal clinic.
“I remember visiting the health centre four times throughout my third pregnancy,’’ she adds.
Walking around the area, one would not escape the sight of some caring men carrying their pregnant wives on bicycles on their way to the health centres. This mostly happens when the days for antenatal services do not coincide with market days.
“During market days, men use bicycles to carry merchandise to the markets, forcing women to walk to health centres,” says John Suya, a father of four.
Suya, however, boasts that her wife never experienced mobility challenges when going to the hospital, thanks to the bicycle he owned which he used to pick up her wife when she was pregnant to Nkalo Health Centre.
Sadly, Yakobe and Malele are just a faction of many women who have had to walk long distances to access a health facility in the country.
But in the area of STA Maoni in Chiradzulu South, this is now history. Thanks to Local Development Fund (LDG) that released K8 million for the construction of a clinic and a staff house connected with electricity in the area.
The construction of the clinic and staff house did not just come on a silver platter. Communities mobilised themselves to mould bricks and later wrote a proposal to the district council requesting for funds to finance the project.
LDF finances projects in areas where communities have contributed 10 percent of the total project cost, which is mostly in form of bricks and sand if it is a construction project under community window component.
“LDF, through Chiradzulu District Council approved the project proposal following a project field appraisal [conducted] by the council’s officials which established the communities’ commitment to have the clinic. During the appraisal, we found that communities in this area have moulded more bricks and collected sand,” said director of planning and development for the council Morson Magombo during the handover ceremony of the clinic and staff house to the communities.
STA Maoni said when people realised that the absence of a health facility in the area was posing a significant challenge to issues of maternal health, he organised a community meeting to urge people to start moulding bricks to attract donor funding.
“We are glad that our sweat has borne fruits now,” added the visibly happy STA Maoni.
He says the clinic will promote safe motherhood in the area as it would provide good health for mothers and children and there will be no cases of women delivering in homes without the assistance of skilled medical personnel.
Health experts argue that pregnant women who access prenatal care deliver babies in a health facility and receive postnatal follow-ups.
Recently, Chief Chitera, a member of Presidential Initiative on Maternal Health and Safe Motherhood, called on village heads in the district to encourage pregnant women to access prenatal care services in health facilities to ensure safe delivery. But the call faces a challenge with the absence of health facilities within reach in some parts of the district that has a population of 288 000, according to the 2008 Housing and Population census.
In the Presidential Initiative, President Joyce Banda developed an ambitious plan to improve maternal health care in the country by ensuring that health facilities have qualified personnel and pregnant women deliver in hospitals.
Member of Parliament for Chiradzulu South Eunice Kazembe praised the communities for moulding bricks which attracted LDF to fund the project, arguing without their (communities’) concerted efforts, the dream of having a clinic within walkable distance could not have materialised.
Kazembe who is also Minister of Education, Science and Technology urged the Ministry of Health to expedite the process of deploying a medical assistant and nurse to ensure that the clinic does not turn into a white elephant.
The media have at times carried reports revealing that some health clinics are not functioning in rural areas because they either have no qualified staff or staff have run away, citing poor availability of social amenities.
“I don’t think the deployment of medical staff will take long. The clinic and the [staff] house both have electricity which will make the work of the staff satisfactory and interesting,” she added.
But Chimwawa Clinic will not turn into a white elephant as district health officer for Chiradzulu Dr Davie Zolowere says: “We will soon deploy [medical] staff to this clinic to ensure that it starts functioning immediately.”
Zolowere said it was the wish of the government to ensure that health services are adequately offered in rural areas, too. On this note, he commended the district council for constructing the clinic, saying it will indeed shorten the distance which pregnant women travel to access health services in general and antenatal services in particular.
—The author works for Malawi News Agency