Reaching beyond the health of the sick


James willow, 34, from Nyakoko Village in Traditional Authority Dambe in Neno almost gave up on being able to stand on his feet and walking again.

In 2012 the young man was diagnosed with tuberculosis, malaria and meningitis which left him partially paralysed.

This forced him to leave his job in Lilongwe where he worked as a painter. James headed back for Neno, back to his mother who supported him where she could and with the little she had.


In 2013 James regained some movement in the legs but this still came with a lot of pain. He has been on palliative care up to date receiving treatment and care from village health workers and health office in the district.

Mary Amon (real name withheld) was forced out of school to join the wagon of sex workers because of poverty. Her parents passed away a few years back. She recalls going through thick and thin to fend for her two siblings who are still in school.

Even though she knows the trade puts her life at risk, she chose to take the risk for her sister and brother to have the essentials in their life.


The struggles of Willow and Amon, different as they may be, have a common friend and support system in Partners In Health (PIH), a US-based organisation.

In a country where most non-governmental organisations in the health sector tend to focus on the provision of health care in the form of medicine, medical equipment, food supplements and health infrastructure, PIH has brought in a new dimension.

In addition to the provision of food supplements, infrastructure and medical equipment and drugs, the organisation has also included social aspects of the community in their programmes in the Neno.

Through the Program on Social Economic Rights (Poser), PIH, which in vernacular is known as Abwenzi Pa Za Umoyo (APZU), has looked at provision of education bursaries to orphans and vulnerable children, start-up businesses for vulnerable and marginalised women and has taken numerous young people through vocational training.


Dr Isabella Musisi, Director of Community Health Programs at PIH, says they have a philosophy in which they believe that a developed community with socially and economically stable people will lessen the burden of disease and in turn reduce the pressure in the hospitals as many of the health problems are deeply rooted in poverty.

She says the environment people live in can cause or aggravate some illnesses that in turn also affect the development of the area.

“Despite patients getting adequate care in the hospitals, drug intake requires one to have enough food to supplement energy expended and that requires one to be to a point economically stable. Further to this, mental health also plays a role in ensuring a patient’s quick recovery and therefore as an organisation we do the best we can to lessen the burdens of the people in the Neno communities,” she says.

Willow has become the latest beneficiary from Poser through which he benefited from a two bed-roomed house which PIH constructed.

He could not hide his joy when house keys were presented to him in the presence of the Member of Parliament for the area Emanuel Lonzo and other local leaders and senior government officials in the district.

He says his recovery has been facilitated by the care he has received from the organisation.

“PIH has been by me throughout my ailment. I owe my recovery to the medical and financial support rendered; I appreciate it and ask them to continue even to others,” he said.

Poser Manager, Victor Kanyema, says aside from helping people on medical care like Willow, vulnerable groups are also considered.

Amon is now one of the nine women who run and manage Mtendere Restaurant in Zalewa. Ownership of the restaurant rotates every two years once the women have attained a good level of economic stability.

To date PIH supports children with educational bursaries, youths with vocational training and provision of start-up materials. Women are put in income generating activities and are supported through interventions through partnerships with community and faith based organisations.

Kanyema reveals that more houses are to be constructed before the year ends to bring the total to 77 houses constructed and 166 renovated by the organisation in the district since 2007.

Alick Milanzi, Human Resources Management Officer at Neno District Council, likens the organisation to a mother because of their involvement in each and every sector.

“It’s undisputable fact that PIH/APZU has contributed to the development of the district because they have contributed a lot to each and every sector regardless of its relevance to health to date. They have supported the district council in so many ways since 2008 when I first reported here. I have witnessed a lot of goodwill from PIH/APZU to the people of Neno,” says Milanzi.

Musisi continues to say that they now want to instill ownership spirit of the programme in the community members.

She says where possible community members will be asked to contribute towards house constructions in terms of locally available materials like sand and bricks.

The programme will start promoting use of ecological toilets which Musisi said would contribute to high crop yields as manure can be extracted from these toilets.

Now in the comfort of a good home, Willow is putting his attention on recovery from his illness.

And Amon now can afford to feel she now has been granted a safe and preferential option for survival.

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