Desperate circumstances, robust health
The grass-thatched houses and tents are mounded together in a scrambled fashion: There cannot be a fixed plan because the number of the people they house— people fleeing the conflict in Mozambique— is changing fast.
“On Thursday (February 25), there were about 7, 000 refugees. Today (February 26) the figure has reached 8, 000. The number is increasing every day but the resources, including medical drugs, have not been increased. We sometimes scramble for the same medical resources with the people who are flocking out of Mozambique,” says Leonard Sambani, a trader at Mtsamika Trading Centre in Mwanza District.
The Trading Centre is situated a kilometre away from Kapisi 2 Village temporary refugee camp— a village standing on high ground in Traditional Authority Nthache, Mwanza. Maybe Kapisi 2 Village was established slightly above the surrounding villages for a purpose. Maybe it was meant to become a centre of attention.
Today, Kapisi 2 is more than a village. Of course, to Village Headman Kapisi’s subjects, it is a village— an ordinary village. Not to Mozambican refugees who are flocking there to secure their dear life. Kapisi 2 is, to them, the centre of hope. It is life itself.
“I am glad I am here at last. I have covered a distance of 40 kilometres on foot to get here,” says Marietta Amigo, who arrived at Kapisi 2 Refugee camp 10 minutes before our arrival on February 26.
“The first thing I needed when I got here was malaria drugs. I am feeling like I have malaria. However, I have been told to wait. I understand they are conducting tests before administering drugs. It’s something impossible to get where I come from,” she adds.
So, the influx of Mozambicans into Malawi is both a human rights and health issue.
“You may wish to know that, even in the absence of refugees, the health budget for Mwanza also caters for Mozambican citizens. We have an agreement with our Mozambican friends although, while Mozambicans receive free treatment in Malawi, Malawians are forced to pay when they visit health centres in Mozambique,” says Mwanza District Health Officer, Raphael Lawrence Piringu.
Piringu observes that, even though the district’s health budget has been increased from K7 million last year to K15 million this year, the district is striving to put the resources available for health expenditure to good use.
Children of conflict
It is noisy at Kapisi Camp – so noisy that, sometimes, it is difficult to pick a conversation.
But, in the background of the grown-ups’ noise, there is a subtle noise — baby cries.
Officials from Mwanza District Hospital say another area that needs to be looked into is the provision of essential health services to babies born in the camp.
“So far, we have delivered 26 babies. This means 26 Mozambican women have delivered in Malawi and we are obliged to provide healthcare services,” says Mwanza District Health Office spokesperson, Dikirani Chadza.
Chadza says the district is working with partners to reach out to those who may need health services.
“In fact, we have opened a health facility that is offering services five days a week, except on Saturdays and Sundays. We have plans to extend the days (to Saturdays and Sundays). Medicines sans Frontiers are helping out with fuel and vehicles while the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef ) is drilling boreholes. So far, four boreholes have been drilled,” said Chadza.
Chadza adds that international charity, Oxfam, has been fumigating houses in a bid to rid the surroundings of mosquitoes. By Saturday last week, 150 houses had been fumigated.
Unicef Child Protection Officer and Team Leader for the United Nations response team at Kapisi Camp, Martin Nkuna, says the provision of health services goes a long way in safeguarding the rights of refugees.
“In our case, we came here as soon as we heard of the situation and our role is to ensure that the rights of women and children are not violated. Among other things, we are ensuring that their nutrition needs are taken care of, and that they have potable water, live under hygienic conditions, among others,” says Nkuna.
He observes that the situation was pathetic when his team arrived in the camp.
On October 28 last year, when we first visited Kapisi Camp, there was no indication that the numbers of Mozambican refugees would keep on rising.
That day, the number of people that had fled conflict in Tete Province, Mozambique, was pegged at 88.
In fact, the day we visited the site, Patrick Thukuta, an advisor at Kapisi 2 refugee camp, told us that less than 10 people were arriving at the camp every day.
“We have received 88 people who have fled the conflict in Tete Province, and the figure translates into 18 families. But people continue to come in.,” said Thukuta at the time.
People started arriving in the country on October 15 last year.
And, since then, the figure keeps on rising.
“We expect that, by July this year, Kapisi Camp will have over 20, 000 people because we expect the situation to worsen and more people to trek into Malawi,” said one official at Mwanza District Council.
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