By Faith Phiri & Kingsley Lenson:
For Yotamu Mhango, 25, there is nothing strange in the area for a pregnant woman delivering in the bush.
For the past five years, Mhango has been operating as a kabaza motorcyclist from Bondi area in Paramount Chief Chikulamayembe in Rumphi District.
He tells Malawi News that in his business, he has seen at least three women delivering in the bush on their way to Rumphi District Hospital—the nearest health facility found at about 17 kilometres away.
The latest case he witnessed was in July 2021 when a woman delivered a baby boy in Chinula mountain.
“It was late at night when I received a call from one of the usual customers asking for transportation to Rumphi District Hospital. I did not hesitate and when I got there, I found the woman in labour pains. I picked her together with a guardian and we started off,” he says.
But 15 minutes into the journey, while they were ascending the Chinula mountain, things got worse. The women delivered in the bush in the mountain.
“We later proceeded to the hospital so that both the mother and the child could get the necessary treatment,” Mhango says.
Nyambwani Village Development Committee Chairperson, Emmanuel Chihana, says over the years the area has lost 10 women largely due to labour complications resulting from failure by women to travel to their nearest health facility.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends a distance of five kilometres to a nearest health facility.
According to Chihana, most of the women delivered either from their homes or on the way to a health facility with the assistance of unskilled attendants.
“We need skilled birth attendants like nurses to save lives of both the women and children. Even the under-five clinic here relies on a Health Surveillance Assistant from Ng’onga, making this officer endure a total of 60 kilometres to provide services here,” Chihana says.
The situation is bad for the area in many other ways.
“None from this area is benefitting from the social protection programmes including the much-touted Affordable Inputs Programme. There is no potable water, hence we rely on water from Rumphi streams,” he says.
Bondi, with a population of over 5,000 people, is located North of Rumphi and lies within Rumphi Central Constituency.
The area’s topography is hilly and the roads are treacherous. To improve the condition of the roads, community members mobilise themselves and maintain them using hoes.
With roads impassable, kabaza is the only reliable mode of transportation. To reach Rumphi Boma, it costs K2, 500 one way.
Mhango says five years ago, there were only three kabaza operators in the area. Now, there are 12 of them.
On a good day, Mhango makes K15,000. The lowest he gets in a day is K5,000.
In addition, due to the area’s topography, mobile network is a hustle.
George Nyirenda of Nyambwani Village laments how phone network challenges have seen villagers going up hills to communicate with friends and relations.
“There is only one network provider in this area which is TNM but it is accessible at Zuli mountain. It takes a total of about 40 minutes to get there. I once got bitten by a snake in 2019 while on the mountain searching for the network,” Nyirenda says.
The area has one primary school—Bondi—which was established in 1982. Its enrollment currently stands at over 200 learners. It has four qualified teachers and two auxiliary teachers against eight classes. Four of these classes are conducted under trees. There is no potable water at the school.
For learners that qualify for secondary education, they have to endure a 34-kilometre walk to Ng’onga Community Day Secondary School.
Mary Gondwe, 15, is in Standard Five at Bondi and she fears that the current situation might jeopardise her dream of becoming a nurse.
“I really want to further my education and become a nurse, but some circumstances draw me back. For example, I am forced to stay at home sometimes because even if I am to attend classes, I will just be playing with friends due to inadequate teachers.
“And if I make it to Ng’onga, it will be difficult to commute 68 kilometres every day for classes,” Gondwe says.
Although the area is hilly and mountainous, it has good fertile soils for crops like tobacco, maize and groundnuts among others. However, unscrupulous vendors exploit the farmers by buying produce at low prices. The farmers say they have no other option due to high transportation costs to Rumphi Boma.
Acting Director of Health and Social Services for Rumphi District, Tizgowere Nyirenda, says they are aware of the health challenges people of Bondi are facing.
“As government, we have the responsibility to provide services to each and every individual regardless of where they are. However, we meet some challenges including poor road network and communication which also need interventions from other sectors,” he says.
Nyirenda says Bondi is on their plans for service provision.
“We have recommended it to benefit from the programme of establishing health posts in hard-to-reach areas. However, we are looking for more partners,” Nyirenda says.
Rumphi District Commissioner, Fred Movete, says the council is facing resource constraints to tackle some of the challenges communities face.
“Rumphi is very mountainous, so this is causing the council a big problem because people have settled in an area which is very difficult to reach with socio-economic services. Reaching such people would mean spending more resources,” he says.
A 2021 Youth and Society budget analysis for Rumphi District Council focusing on education, health and social protection programmes for the 2020-2021 financial year shows that Rumphi District was allocated 23 percent for development while 77 percent was allocated towards recurrent expenditures.
“From the budget composition, it can be concluded that Rumphi District Council budget is more pro-consumption than pro-investment,” reads the study dated October 30, 2021.