Communities in Traditional Authorities (T/As) Chikho and Chilooko in Ntchisi did not appreciate the importance of vaccinating children against diseases such as malaria, measles and polio until recently.
Rising cases of child mortality forced them to change their ways.
Ntchisi District Hospital senior health surveillance assistant, Ireen Chalungama, attributes the parental vaccine hesitancy to lack of awareness and knowledge on health risks associated with delaying or refusing children some or all vaccines.
Chalungama states that refusing children vaccination risks not only their health, but also those of other people with weakened immune systems.
“They didn’t know that when diseases attack, they not only have a direct impact on children and their parents, but the society as a whole,” she stays.
Ntchisi Evangelical Churches Consortium for Social Services coordinator Matthias Chindungwa says reasons behind vaccine hesitancy in the district are complex and encompass more than just a knowledge deficit.
Chindungwa highlights cultural beliefs, myths and misconceptions as some of the factors that used to discourage parents from getting their children immunised.
Since 2018, Malawi Health Equity Network (Mhen) has been implementing Health Systems Strengthening Project designed to address parental vaccine hesitancy in primary care.
The five-year project is being implemented in Blantyre, Lilongwe, Mchinji, Dowa, Ntchisi, Kasungu, Mzimba South, Mzimba North and Chitipa with financial support from Global Vaccine through the Ministry of Health.
Mhen facilitated the formation of Mother Care Groups (MCGs), which are advocating proper vaccination approaches.
The groups are also supporting service delivery and advocating and mobilising resources for health.
Each MCG comprises 30 members and a Group Village Head (GVH) and its roles include defaulter tracing, conducting sensitisation meetings, conducting advocacy meetings, registering new-borns and pregnant mothers.
Sophilet Rodrick is chairperson of Chafumbwa MCG in T/A Chilooko.
Speaking at a stakeholders’ meeting at Chafumbwa Trading Centre last Friday, Rodrick said the project has contributed significantly to the reduction in vaccine default rates and child deaths in the area.
However, she lamented that despite the strides, the community faces mobility challenges to enhance and promote child immunisation campaign in the area.
Through community efforts, the MCG repaired the motorcycle, which the HSA is now using to deliver vaccines to designated under-five clinics across the area.
“But it is not a reliable mode of transporting the vaccines, as it is very old and sometimes breaks down while on the way,” Rodrick says.
As such, the mother group requested the community to mobilise sand and bricks for the construction of an under-five clinic in their area.
Rodrick says they are working with traditional and community leaders to implement the project.
Senior GVH Chawinga supports the initiatives the all-women group has undertaken to address child deaths in the area.
Chawinga says in collaboration with traditional leaders under him and Area Development Committee (ADC) leadership, they mobilised bricks and sand, which they used to construct the clinic.
Chairperson of Chiyanjano MCG in T/A Chikho, Solofonika Bizwick, says apart from dealing with vaccine default and high rates of child mortality, the group is addressing sanitation and hygiene challenges in the area.
She states that the group has already constructed 30 modern pit latrines for its members.
Bizwick said, among others, that the group has already dug 30 modern pit latrines for its members.
“The next step is to construct pit latrines for non-members, but at a fee, so that the resources we get from there should go towards supporting our activities,” she says.
Mhen project officer Maness Msowoya says the project envisages that preventable deaths of new-borns and under-five children should be history by the end of this decade.
Msowoya adds that the project seeks to ensure that barriers to equitable and quality immunisation are reduced, enabling women, children and communities to access quality services where they are.
“We seek to contribute to strengthening the capacity of integrated health systems to deliver immunisation by resolving health constraints, increasing the level of equity in access to services and strengthening civil society engagement in the health sector,” she explains.