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Road infrastructure eludes Makanjira

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LULANGA— There are no teachers for our children

Road infrastructure is one of the indicators of progress. No wonder, it is one of the goals listed in the Malawi 2063 agenda. However, as YOHANE SYMON writes, this important aspect of development has eluded the people of Makanjira in Mangochi District for ages, as promises go unfulfilled.

The journey from Mangochi Boma to Makanjira— not to mention that to Chiphole in Traditional Authority (TA) Lulanga and beyond— is a rough one.

In fact, it is not a journey but a form of corporal punishment, a situation that gets worse when one uses public transport, as one is condemned to spending an average of six hours on the road just to cover a stretch of 130 kilometres.

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Lucky ones, meaning those that use private forms of transport, are not even lucky as they have to spend between three and four hours to complete the journey.

In the rainy season, travel on the road turns into a nightmare. Apart from it being bumpy and unpaved, the road has about 45 narrow bridges and drifts, some of which get washed away by running water every rainy season, further compounding challenges travellers face.

Even when areas along the road are not receiving rains, travel on the road is sometimes disrupted by floods, emanating from river water that goes off course. The water comes from Namizimu hills, which border Malawi and Mozambique on the eastern part of Makanjira and serve as the source of water for the rivers.

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Due to this, mobility, access to crucial public amenities such as healthcare service facilities, banks and markets becomes a challenge.

With a combined population of 300,000 people for both TA Lulanga and Makanjira, the areas have one government health centre at Mpilipili. The other healthcare service facility, which is affiliated to the Christian Health Association of Malawi is situated at Lulanga Trading Centre.

Recently, the Ministry of Health opened Maganga Health Post at Chiphole. The Maganga Health Post was constructed and furnished by World Vision Malawi, which is the only civil society organisation (CSO) that had been operating in Lulanga until four year ago, when the council forced some CSOs to consider introducing interventions to the area.

For civil servants like teachers, police officers and medical personnel working in Makanjira, accessing their salaries costs them a lot more money.

Those willing to save a few Kwachas give their Auto Teller Machine cards to one or two persons to go and withdraw the salaries at the Boma on their behalf. In most cases, the salary is withdrawn at once to avoid making another journey.

As a result, some civil servants have been refusing postings to Makanjira because the place is hard to reach and seemingly cut off from the Boma due to the bad road, according to council officials.

“We have incidences where some houses in some primary schools are vacant because teachers are not willing to be moved from other areas to Lulanga. This mostly affects learning for our children because the government is forcing us to send children to school but there are no teachers to teach our children when they attend classes,” Traditional Lulanga said.

The health sector is one of the sectors highly affected.

Mpilipili Hospital, which is at Makanjira, has a single designated ambulance that takes patients from other areas within Makanjira to the facility, or to Mangochi District Hospital, for further treatment.

But the ambulance sometimes fails to fulfill its mandate because work involving travel on the Makanjira-Mangochi Road is more than enough for a single driver.

“We do not conduct some procedures here [at Makanjira Health Centre] because of the capacity of the facility. So, in some cases, an ambulance takes a patient to Mangochi for treatment and, while it is there, another emergency emerges, which means we have to wait for the same ambulance to come back after some hours so that it can go back again to Mangochi with another patient. This is a common occurrence at our facility,” said one of the medical personnel at Makanjira. He refused to be named because he is not mandated to speak for the hospital.

Shortage of staff is another challenge at the facility, as one midwife technician is forced to attend to pregnant women in labour almost every day without taking some days off.

Recently, medical personnel staged an industrial strike at the facility to force authorities to increase the number of members of staff after some personnel snubbed postings.

This means that Mangochi District Hospital was the only facility on table for patients, who included pregnant women.

Under such circumstances, pregnant women are among the most affected people because they are often referred to Mangochi District Hospital to access services.

“Our bylaws do not allow women to deliver on their own. And when a woman delivers without a traditional birth attendant, we charge them fines. But we have had exceptions for women who deliver on the road when going to Mangochi District Hospital,” Senior Chief Makanjira said.

Area Development Committee (ADC) Chairperson for Litifu area, Bilato Maselino, who has been pushing to have a big hospital at Lukoloma, which is 40 kilometres from Makanjira, claimed that they have records of women who continue to deliver on the road before they make it to the hospital.

“Some women are losing their lives while giving birth because they cannot make it in time to the hospital. We, as ADC members, want the authorities to look into the possibility of paving the road or giving us a big hospital where women can be treated without referring them to Mangochi District,” he said.

Maselino claimed that the ADC has figures of women who deliver on their way to the hospital because they cannot make it to the hospital on time, describing this as a setback to safe motherhood initiatives.

Under the Mangochi Basic Social Support Programme, the Government of Iceland provided about K1.4 billion to help in upgrading Makanjira Health Centre into a community hospital four years ago.

But the project is yet to take off due to procurement delays at the Central Government level.

But District Commissioner Raphael Piringu is optimistic that the health centre will be upgraded because the government has addressed the challenges which were delaying procurement processes.

“We visited the site with Embassy of Iceland officials and contractors for a pre-biding meeting, such that we hope this process will be finalised soon and a contractor will be identified for the works to begin,” Piringu said.

Safe Motherhood Coordinator for Mangochi, Bob Milanzi Faque, in an earlier interview, expressed worry that over a third of women in the district are delivering without a skilled birth attendant due to distances in between hospitals.

Faque said, currently, about 65 percent of pregnant women in the district are being attended to by a skilled midwife.

“Within 45 health centres which have maternity sections in Mangochi, we deliver about 120 babies every day, translating to 3,600 babies every month. But this means that we are not able to reach our target of having all pregnant women deliver at hospitals. Those that are not delivering at the hospital are at risk because the life of the mother or child can be lost,” he said.

He mentioned Makanjira, Lulanga, Katuli, Chilipa, Nankumba and Chiunda as some of the areas in Mangochi where women cover long distances to deliver at the hospital.

“Although I might not have specific figures at hand, but we have few cases of maternal death resulting from failure of women to deliver at a healthcare service facility. But the cases are not that common. Some cases are also fuelled by women’s failure to report to the hospital on time,” Faque said.

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