Accessing health services has always been a challenge to Janet Wyson of Kabango Village, Traditional Authority Mlonyeni in Mchinji.
She says things have been worse at under-five clinics.
“It is very difficult for us to get necessary vaccines for our children. The only place we can go to access all health services is Tembwe Health Centre, which is very far from here,” Wyson says.
Tembwe Health Centre is 15 kilometres from Wyson’s village. The nearest health facility for the village is at a place called Chisaka in Zambia, two kilometres away.
But it is not easy for women and all people from her village to access services there. They are told to work within the hospital premises before they can access the services.
“They tell us to clear the land or weed maize fields. All this happens before we get any assistance,” Wyson says.
Their names are recorded and they are exempted from work for that particular farming season whenever they want to access medical services.
Women in the area, operating under a grouping called Kabango Mother Care Group (MCG), have become tired of the situation. For child immunisation, they decided to build an under-five clinic.
Catherine Banda, chairperson of the MCG says an aspiring parliamentary candidate in Zambia’s 2021 elections became an answer to their problem. On his campaign trail, the candidate strayed into Malawi and conducted a political rally in the area.
“He helped us construct a structure. It is sad that he lost the election. What remains is completing the facility. That is the support we are looking for,” Banda says.
According to Banda, there are intermarriages between people of the two countries. She says some Zambians are found in Malawi while some Malawians are found in Zambia.
Thus, according to Banda, it was not strange to see that particular parliamentary aspirant conducting his campaign rally in Malawi.
The construction of the yet-to-be completed clinic has brought renewed hope to all women in the area.
“There are many women who gather here. We need a safe place where we can be conducting our vaccination campaigns,” Banda says.
The group was established in November 2020. Following the training they received from Malawi Health Equity Network (Mhen), they have been lobbying for better facilities which can help in access to immunisation services among children.
Village Head Tchira in Mchinji says accessing services from healthcare facilities in Zambia has always been a challenge.
“When we go to a health facility at Chisaka in Zambia, they check if the people work there. If their names are found on the list, they are assisted. If they did not, they are sent back. If a clinic is constructed here, we will stop going to Zambia,” he says.
United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 3 aims at ensuring healthy lives and promoting the well-being for all at all ages by 2030.
Geoffrey Lembi, a health surveillance assistant from Tembwe Health Centre, but based at Kabango, says the area experiences many challenges.
“But there are a number of challenges. People travel long distances to access our services. However, activities these Mother Care Groups are implementing have helped improve the situation. The clinic that is being constructed will further help improve access to health services,” Lembi says.
Mchinji is one of the districts where Mhen is implementing a five-year Health Systems and Immunisation Strengthening (HSIS) project with financial support from Gavi the Vaccine Alliance. Other districts are Blantyre, Lilongwe, Dowa, Ntchisi, Kasungu, Mzimba and Chitipa.
The organisation’s programmes manager, Davis Mwachumu, says it is sad that duty-bearers in Mchinji did not assist the women.
“Those women are working hard to make sure that they have access to healthcare services. It is sad that they sought assistance from an aspiring parliamentary candidate in Zambia,” Mwachumu says.
He applauds the women for the effort they have put in the under-five clinic project.
“Much as the response came from Zambia, we are happy that the help came because of the women’s persistence. They should be commended for that,” Mwachumu says.
Gumba says he is aware of the project and that he is willing to assist.
“Ideas about development projects are supposed to start from the VDC [Village Development Committee], and these are later taken to ADC [Area Development Committee].
“They are then included in constituency plans. This project did not follow that channel. However, as we are speaking now, the VDC has information about the project and we will include it in our development plans for 2022-23 financial year,” the lawmaker says.