By Steria Manda, Contributor
Collective efforts between healthcare workers and Mother Care Groups (MCGs) to enhance childhood immunization and eliminate illnesses in under-five children are yielding remarkable results in Traditional Authority (TA) Chilooko in Ntchisi.
MCGs comprise 30-member community volunteers who support service delivery and advocate and mobilise resources for health in hard-to-reach areas.Globally, immunisation has proven to be effective in protecting children to be protected from diseases caused by bacteria or viruses.
It also helps protect others around the children.However, in most rural areas, parents do not get their children vaccinated due to traditional, religious and cultural beliefs.But the narrative is slowly changing in Ntchisi where MCGs have assumed the role of tracing defaulters, conducting sensitisation meetings on the importance of immunisation, hold advocacy meetings and register newly-born babies and women pregnancies.
Malawi Health Equity Network (Mhen) facilitated the establishment of MCGs in 2019 through Gavi Health Systems and Immunisation Strengthening (HSIS), a five-year project being implemented by the Government of Malawi with financial support from Gavi Vaccine Alliance.
The project is running from July 2018 to June 2023 and seeks to address barriers to equitable and quality immunization so that women, children and communities are able to access quality immunisation services and healthcare and improved quality and uptake of immunisation services.
It is against this background that Mhen, in conjunction with the Ministry of Health, the network and Ntchisi District Health Office (DHO), conducted capacity building training for MCGs, traditional and community leaders and local civil society organisations (CSOs).
The training mainly focused on Expanded Programme on Immunisation, whose topics included Concept of Mother Care Group, immunisation, reaching every child, team-building and group dynamics, rights and obligations and advocacy.
MCGs were then provided with supporting materials, which include immunisation tracking boxes, immunisation tracking cards, hardcovers and bicycles and monthly reporting forms.
Kapempha MCG chairperson Anna Selemani said the training enabled them to gain knowledge and skills for advancing and promoting exclusive breastfeeding, appropriate complementary feeding and water and sanitation behaviours are critical in improving nutritional status and the prevention of pneumonia, diarrhoea and neonatal infection in young children.
Hence, twice a month, Selemani and her fellow members visit couples with new-born babies and under-five children where they teach them about maternal behaviours that have proven effective in reducing childhood malnutrition and death in resource-poor communities.
“And this has helped in eliminating improper nutrition and feeding practices that negatively could affect children’s ability to learn, to grow, and to provide for his or her family in the future,” Selemani said.
Ntchisi District Hospital Cold Chain Technician Steven Chimzinga said the rates in morbidity and mortality have drastically declined since the initiative rolled out in the area.
Chimzinga added that there has been an increase in demand for healthcare services in areas where the intervention is being implemented.
“Most importantly, there is transfer of knowledge and skills necessary for effective and lasting community health development in order to ensure the continuation of preventative measures in the aftermath of the programme,” Chimzinga said.The network is implementing the intervention in nine districts of Blantyre, Lilongwe, Mchinji, Dowa, Ntchisi, Kasungu, Mzimba South, Mzimba North and Chitipa.Mhen Executive Director George Jobe says the ultimate goal of the project is to contribute towards the achievement of Malawi targets in United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by strengthening the capacity of integrated health systems to deliver immunisation by resolving health constraints.
“The nine districts were identified because of their low immunisation coverage; hence, MCGs were established to enhance and increase the level of equity in access to services and strengthen civil society engagement in the health sector.
“This intervention aims to improve access, quality and utilisation of Essential Health Package services including immunisation, with a focus on populations systematically missed due to geographical, socio-economic and cultural barriers,” Jobe said.
According to Jobe, MCGs have been established in hard-to-reach areas characterised by geographical barriers, inaccessible road networks and bridges, isolated and scattered settlements, communities with economic activities hindering people access to health care services and religious beliefs prohibiting its members accessing immunisation services among others.
The groups have also been established in urban slums in Lilongwe, Blantyre and Mzuzu and Kasungu Municipality where low immunisation coverage has been observed.
So far, 240 MCGs have been established in the nine districts where Mhen is implementing the project.
Minister of Health Khumbize Kandodo Chiponda said in addition to the supplementary immunisation, Malawi is intensifying routine immunisation and surveillance.
Chiponda commended the efforts by the network to increase and improve access to immunisation among hard-to-reach communities.
“Even though our routine immunisation indicators at national level are good, we are continuing to improve access and utilisation of routine immunisation services to achieve coverage of at least 90 percent for all antigens,” she said.