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Locals that belong nowhere

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SAVIOUR—Saudi is the only nurse at Ngana Health Centre

In Ngana, an area along Malawi’s northern border, locals are struggling to live normal lives after authorities seemingly forgot about them. SAM KALIMIRA paints a picture of their misery.

Josiah Saudi, a nurse at Ngana Health Centre in Karonga District, nearly wept when he remembered a baby that could successfully be delivered dying in his hands while the mother and guardians helplessly watched.

Saudi tried his best to save the life of the baby with community member’s support, to no avail.

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“The time the woman arrived; she was already due. The baby was already on its way out. I started delivering the baby but, unfortunately, it got stuck,” Saudi explains.

He rushed to nearby hills to make a phone call to Karonga District Hospital for an ambulance to come and pick the baby and the mother whose lives were in danger.

The area where Ngana Health Centre is located does not have mobile phone network. The ambulance itself could not reach the health centre.

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So, broken and devastated, some men carried the woman on a stretcher, covering about 20 kilometres to reach Songwe Border where the ambulance was waiting for them.

Throughout the trek, the mother was bleeding heavily but the healthcare worker remained close to provide support to diminish the haemorrhage.

“At the border, the ambulance picked us to the district hospital where it was confirmed that the baby was dead. The mother survived,” Saudi explains.

The nurse had a nearly similar experience in which, after normal delivery, a woman developed complications and kept bleeding.

She was taken to Karonga District Hospital on a stretcher.

He says during the three years that he has been at the health centre, he has referred four cases of pregnant women who were ferried on stretchers to the district hospital.

With a population of around 5,000 people, Ngana area is literally cut off because of poor mobile phone and road networks.

The poor road network to Ngana Health Centre means the facility frequently runs out of drugs and other medical supplies.

Healthcare workers also shun the facility which currently just has a nurse and an assistant medical officer.

Education, too, suffers in this area along Malawi’s northern border.

Ngana Full Primary School, which has close to 400 learners, fails to optimally perform during national examinations due to high rates of absenteeism and inadequate teaching and learning materials.

The school has only six teachers including the head teacher and his deputy.

“During the rainy season, many learners choose to stay home because rivers which they are supposed to cross are usually full,” says Isaac Sangano, a teacher at the school.

Vendors from neighbouring areas across the border, in Tanzania, also buy farm produce at very low prices, leaving farmers heavily short-changed.

The vendors have what appears to be a legitimate excuse: They have to cover long distances, navigating through bad roads and crossing dangerous rivers, to access the farm produce which they ferry back to wherever they find markets.

Kanyerere Msukwa of Mwaisondolo Village, Traditional Authority Mwakaboko in the lakeshore district, feels people of Ngana are abandoned by the government.

“During the time of Kamuzu Banda, the road was passable throughout the year. Now, it is like the area does not belong to Malawi,” Msukwa says.

The absence of local mobile phone networks means people in the area turn to Tanzanian networks for which they are charged international rates.

The currency used is Tanzanian Shillings. So, these people often ask where they actually belong.

Perhaps the most ironic part is that Songwe Border, which is not far from Ngana area, generates between K3 billion and K4 billion a month, part of which could go towards rehabilitating the road that would open up Ngana.

Karonga District Commissioner, Paul Kalilombe, (now interdicted) said the road could only be rehabilitated by the Central Government.

He believes members of Parliament (MPs) and councillors have never prioritised the road because the area has few votes.

But MP for Karonga North, Mungasulwa Mwambande, in whose constituency Ngana area is, differed with Kalilombe, saying rehabilitating the road would require a lot of money which the Constituency Development Fund (CDF) and the District Development Fund cannot provide.

Apparently, constituencies receive K40 million CDF per year.

“I just asked government to help me in constructing the Songwe to Ngana and Iyembe to Kitwika roads so that people can be connected to Karonga Town where essential public services are offered,” Mwambande said.

But Roads Authority Public Relations Officer Portia Kajanga said, in the 2020-21 approved budget, the Songwe Border to Ngana Road is targeted for grading and cyclic maintenance.

Kajanga however, said, for the bridges, K265 million would be needed on top of the K11.2 million earmarked for maintenance works.

“The road is already in our plans. The only challenge is resources,” she said.

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