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Recorders for health lives

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By Eric Msikiti:

HAIL THE RECORDER—Mlangeni shows the device that is changing lives

Before August 2015, communities in Group Village Head Mlangeni, Traditional Authority (T/A) Nsamala, in Balaka District, had difficulties in accessing quality health services.

They lacked capacity to fight for improved services in health facilities in the area, where, in some instances, they were afraid of sharing their concerns with officials over poor services.

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At Chiyendausiku Health Centre, for example, people living with HIV, women and the youth seeking medical or other services would gather in the same room, a situation which saw others shunning the services altogether or, in some cases, suffer in silence.

“Apart from gathering in one room, women seeking family planning services would be attended to by health workers under a tree. This exposed them to ridicule,” Anne Kaduya, in T/A Nsamala, recalls.

The experience would discourage the women from seeking the services. The result was a boom in the population of an area already struggling to provide essential services to its people.

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For most of the women and youth who sought health services at Chiyendausiku Health Centre, the 30 kilometres that they had to cover sometimes sapped their will too.

“As a result, most of us, especially those pregnant, would resort to seeking help from traditional birth attendants, putting lives at risk,” Kaduya states.

That was over a decade ago when they knew little or nothing at all regarding their health rights.

“Communities are now able to demand better health services,” Maxwell Chaona, who is secretary of a 10-member radio listening club (RLC) which Kaduya belongs to, says.

They are using Information and Communication Technology (ICT) to lobby for improved services in the public health sector.

Members of the RLC capture concerns from the communities using a voice recorder and play the concerns to duty bearers before recording the responses for the rest of the communities.

“In this way, we have managed to improve accountability and transparency in service delivery in the health and other sectors in this area,” Chaona brags.

The initiative has allowed communities to secure a place for the construction of a maternity wing at Chiyendausiku Health Centre.

Village Head Mlangeni describes the development as a milestone in as far as enhancing access to quality health services in the area is concerned.

“It was not easy for us to secure this place for the construction of the maternity wing because of someone who was claiming ownership of the land until the radio listening club intervened. They would use the recorder to enquire about the piece of land until we got it,” the local leader says.

The RLC has also bridged the gap that was there between communities and healthcare workers.

The clubs are part of a programme aimed at creating dialogue between service providers and communities to improve the quality of health services in rural areas.

The programme, which is being implemented by Development Communication Trust, with financial support from Oxfam, teaches communities on how they can take demand free quality health services.

The programme has empowered support groups, women groups, traditional leaders, the youth, people living with HIV and people with disabilities with information and materials to hold duty bearers accountable.

Oxfam Deputy Country Director, Lingalireni Mihowa, views the programme as critical in enhancing Universal Health Coverage in Malawi.

“From August 2015 when the program started, we have seen communities using the recorder to influence change. They now have a voice on issues that concern them including access to quality health services,” Mihowa says.

Recently, a team of senior officials from Oxfam Ireland which funds the initiative visited the radio listening club at Chiyendausiku where Chief Executive Officer, Jim Clarken, expressed satisfaction with the way the initiatives is changing lives.

“What we need as a people is the ability and platforms to voice out our concerns whenever we feel our rights have been infringed on,” Clarken said.

He added: “Our role will be to complement government’s efforts in these areas but the primary responsibility to construct and manage these facilities in such a way that they provide the much needed services lies in the hands of the government.”

On the other hand, the gains and Clarken and his team saw continue being undermined by gaps in financial protection, shortage of drugs and emergency services and inadequate health personnel and facilities, among others.

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