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Saving patients’ lives the innovative way


HUB OF INNOVATION— One of the innovation workstations

By Wezzie Gausi

Roughly 10 years ago, Harold Kumadzi from Gumba Village in Mchinji District was an ordinary man with ordinary hopes.

Like everyone else who used to frequent public hospitals in the Central Region district, he could wait on the line that takes patients to consultation rooms for hours on end.

When his turn to meet the medical worker came, he was usually exhausted— and, yet, all he wanted from the hospital was information about diseases and sometimes advice on issues related to reproductive health.

But instead of resigning to fate, and giving up on ever visiting healthcare service facilities again, he let his thoughts escape into the creative chamber of his mind.

He realised that, instead of resigning to fate, he could rise from the ashes of fate and improve the health information-seeking experience for himself and others.

“That is how I found myself being trained as Community Champion by Village Reach in an innovation called Chipatala Chapa Foni (CCPF),” he recollected.

Indeed, as the world is evolving technologically, Malawi has taken its space in the rush for digital space migration.

Over the years, the country has been adopting technologies that tickle its fancy not just to address challenges it faces, but be at par with the modern world.

For instance, stakeholders have established e-learning in the education sector while applications such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams have become all-rounder answers to communication problems in the Covid era.

To add an icing on the cake of education sector innovations, the Government of Malawi has been distributing tablets to learners in rural areas.

But, most importantly, the innovations are serving as an indication that, when State and non-State actors join hands, there is nothing that can stop them.

And that is how the Kumadzis of this world are becoming part of the solution to problems facing the world in general and Malawi in particular with innovations such as CCPF.

CCPF is a hotline that complements other sources of health information and advice— apart from the information provided by healthcare service delivery workers, health surveillance assistants and health messages in print and electronic media platforms.

Kumadzi said he has, through CCPF, managed to help many people in his area seek medical help.

Coming from a typical rural area, Kumadzi says there is negligible health-seeking behaviour among people in his community, even when they get sick and things are getting worse.

He explains that many are times when people prefer to go to herbalists to seek help, instead of visiting public healthcare service facilities, which are often manned by well trained personnel.

“However, things have changed for the better ever since I was trained as community champion,” Kumadzi indicated.

He cited the example of a couple that was married for 15 years but could not give birth.

The husband and wife moved from one herbalist to the other looking for help as they believed that they were bewitched by ill-intentioned people in the community.

“This family could not stomach the idea of going to the hospital. To them, they were bewitched and their problem could only be dealt with using traditional means.

Through civic education on the need to seek medical help using their phones, the couple agreed to talk with medical experts via the phone.

“This came as a source of relief to them as they believed that they would be free to share their worries with a doctor without the embarrassment of a face-to-face meeting. They were, therefore, assured of privacy.

“After they narrated their problems to doctors, they were encouraged to go and meet doctors at Mchinji District Hospital,” Kumadzi said.

That is how it was discovered that the problem was minor, after all.

Kumadzi said, after three to five months of hospital visits, the wife became expectant and gave birth to a baby girl, who is about two years now.

“I can strongly say that innovations are helping people big time. Imagine, some people shy away from face-to-face meetings with doctors. Some even complain that they are shouted at. But with CCPF, clients are treated with the respect and confidentiality they deserve.

“They are given right counselling, which has propelled many of my clients to go to the hospital to seek help,” he added.

Another youth beneficiary, Taurai Luka from Mangochi District, said she used to be afraid of going to the hospital to seek medication and other services when sick.

“But, using the CCPF innovation, I was able to talk to doctors on the phone and some of the problems I was facing were addressed.

“This is a good innovation; one I would encourage others to subscribe to. Through the facility, we are able to get help that promotes health-seeking behaviour,” Luka pointed out.

A 2018 CCPF evaluation report indicates that, among other things, the innovation has helped healthcare service seekers make good decisions on prevention and treatment of diseases.

It adds that CCPF has also improved home-based practices and health‐seeking behaviour.

Officials further indicate that the hotline has been instrumental in providing quality advice on a range of health and nutrition topics and, most importantly, it has helped service users and service seekers comply to Ministry of Health standards.

Drones innovation

Malawi is a pioneer country to support the development and utilisation of drone technology in various sectors.

One of the beneficiary sectors is the health one, which has medical drone transportation services at its disposal.

In 2016, the first use case test was conducted through a collaboration of Ministry of Health, United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund (Unicef), VillageReach and Matternet in Lilongwe.

Unicef Malawi Drones & Data Specialist, Tautvydas Juskauskas, said in early 2017, the Humanitarian Drone Testing Corridor was established in Malawi, Kasungu District in particular, as the first of its kind on the continent.

He said since the inception of the corridor, Malawi has seen an exponential growth in the use of drone technology, particularly for the delivery of medicines and diagnostic samples in hard-to-reach areas.

Juskauskas added that, currently, nine districts in Central and Southern Malawi benefit from drone delivery, with the particular focus on hard-to-reach areas.

“Based on activity reports, drones are beginning to reduce health commodity and diagnostics delivery and turnaround times and reduce stock-outs of essential medicines.

“Drones play an important role within the health supply chain system. The health supply chain system is an integral part of overall health service delivery. If a facility does not have necessary health commodities or cannot collect a diagnostic sample due to transportation or accessibility issues, drones come into place as a tool for expediting the delivery of medicines, diagnostic samples and similar commodities,” Juskauskas said.

Ministry of Health spokesperson Adrian Chikumbe said, through the use of innovations in the health sector, there have been a significant decrease in cases of maternal and infant illnesses and deaths, which can be attributed to a number of interventions including the use of drone technology.

“These drones have been used in transportation of laboratory samples as well emergency medicines and medical supplies, particularly to and from hard-to-reach areas.

“This, however, has not yet been scaled up to all areas that require this technology,” Chikumbe said.

Health rights advocate George Jobe said the innovations are in line with what is stipulated in the Malawi 2063.

He said, as the world is changing in terms of healthcare service delivery models and strategies, no country has the luxury of being left behind.

“To meet Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 3 and deliver on the promise of Universal Health Coverage (UHC), countries will have to innovate, the way Malawi did with CCPF and drones,” Jobe said.

Meanwhile, VillageReach has said will continue to co-create innovative solutions to solve healthcare challenges and break through barriers to ensure healthcare for all.

That way, people will be seeking healthcare services the way they keep tabs on breakfast, lunch and dinner times.

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