For close to two decades, community members around Kalitubi Outreach Clinic in Mzimba South have been accessing under-five clinic services under a dense mango tree.
The clinic, like eight others under Kalikumbi Health Centre in the district, does not have shelter befitting the description.
The tree becomes handy when healthcare workers visit the area to conduct natal services.
Maria Ngulube, 45, has taken all her four children to have their weight assessed and their bodies immunised at the under-tree clinic.
Her eldest child is 28-years-old while the youngest is 16-years-old.
Ngulube, who is also chairperson of Kalitubi Mother Care Group, says, when it rains, all services under the tree are suspended.
“We have no option because even the nearest health facilities, Kalikumbi and Edingeni, are several kilometres away. We have to spend between K5,000 and K15,000 per trip,” she says.
Health Surveillance Assistant (HSA) for Kalitubi catchment area, Mayamiko Chisale, confirms that, in some areas, women shun such open spaces.
It is not the case where she works.
“I was posted to work here last year but, so far, what I have observed is that the community is pro-active on issues of immunisation.
“I am always overwhelmed with the number of women and children accessing under-five clinic services during outreach days,” Chisale says.
She hails the mother group, saying it is vibrant in raising awareness about the importance of seeking services from certified healthcare workers.
Men, too, are convinced to accompany their wives to the clinics.
“Thus, immunisation coverage for Kalitubi Outreach Clinic has jumped from 40 percent in 2018 to 80 percent now,” Chisale states.
Kalitubi Mother Care Group, which covers five villages, was established in 2019 by Malawi Health Equity Network (Mhen) under the Gavi-funded Health Systems Immunisation Strengthening Project.
The group has 30 members and fights to ensure more under-five children access healthcare services such as immunisation.
“What we want is a proper under-five shelter and the HAS’s house. We as a community, will play our part,” the group’s treasurer Costas Moyo says.
Elsewhere at Zukuma in Inkosi Mtwalo’s area, women access under-five services in a multi-purpose hall constructed with support from a local church.
Zukuma Mother Care Group Chairperson, Mynesi Nkhambule, says the community contributed bricks and sand, among other building materials, for them to have a better place for immunisation.
“We now have a room in the hall for safe keeping of our equipment as well as the hall for weighing and immunising children.
“We have also constructed an HSA’s house so that he should always be available around the area. The number of women taking their children to the clinic has since increased from 40 percent to 80 percent,” Nkhambule says.
District Superintendent for Malawi North Church of the Nazarene, Robert Chinula, says they supported the community with the under-five clinic and an HAS’s house to reduce the distance they cover to nearest health centres.
“Zukuma is a remote area and, as the first pastor to open a branch there, I noted that people were lacking social amenities such as schools and hospitals. As a church, we started with the construction of a school, then the clinic,” Chinula says.
The multipurpose hall will be used as a church, under-five clinic and for any other activities for community members might have time to time, he says.
Chinula further states that one room has been allocated for safe keeping of clinic materials.
Mhen Project Officer, Beverly Bhima, is upbeat that the mother care groups will continue their efforts of ensuring improved access to healthcare services.
“We are seeing change, especially in the area of immunisation coverage. The women are doing a good job in mobilising community to have their children immunised,” Bhima says.
Mhen is implementing the five-year project in nine districts including Mzimba, Chitipa, Kasungu, Mchinji and Blantyre.
The objective is to boost immunisation coverage, among others, in the country.
World Health Organisation recommends a target of over 80 percent of coverage.
The United Nations health agency estimates that immunisation prevents at least two million infant deaths globally every year.