When child health is not prioritised
Development projects are supposed to have time-frames. But as MACDONALD THOM discovered recently in Mangochi, a structure which is supposed to be an under-five clinic is not being completed for many years. While former Mangochi Central Member of Parliament (MP), Clement Chiwaya and his successor Victoria Kingston are aware of the structure, District Commissioner Moses Chimphepo says he was hearing about it for the first time when we tried to find out what is happening.
It is a building people of Nkali in Mangochi Central want to be an under-five clinic. They are tired of trekking to Mangochi District Hospital to access healthcare services for their children. It is a structure people do not know when exactly it was erected.
Mary Alidi, one of the people in the area, said for a long time they have been waiting for the completion of the project but nothing is being done.
“We are struggling a lot in accessing health services for our children. We have to spend money on transport to access services at Mangochi District Hospital. The other nearby health facility at Maldeco, is private. We would really appreciate if this project was completed,” Alidi said.
She does not recollect when the first brick for the building was laid. But from the scanty information she gives, it is over ten years ago.
Koche Area Development Committee Treasurer, Thomson Bilali, said they have been trying to follow up on the completion of the project but nothing tangible is coming out of their efforts.
“When we follow up, and when we include it in our development plans, nothing happens. We are planning to write the DC so that this project is completed,” he said.
The constituency’s former MP, Clement Chiwaya, said the project started during his term of office. He, however, said by the time he stopped being the constituency’s representative, the structure was one of the projects that were not completed.
“I know that project. It was supposed to be an under-five clinic; it was community-based. We had to construct and give it to the people. But at that time, there were many projects that we were implementing. As such, by the time my term of office came to an end, it was not yet complete,” Chiwaya said.
Money used in the construction of the structure was drawn from the Constituency Development Fund (CDF). Chiwaya said he could not remember the exact amount spent, saying “after I left, I closed everything in my mind.”
He said Mangochi District Council should have records.
“We implemented many projects but being a community project, I cannot remember when it actually started. There are a number of projects which were not completed but the expectation is that they will be completed,” he said.
Chiwaya, however, blamed the community for the current condition of the structure.
“There is a problem with the community. Instead of taking good care of the building, there is vandalism. Children have also turned it into a playground. That is not good,” he said.
Mangochi DC, Moses Chimphepo, says he is not aware of the structure.
“This is the first time I am hearing about it. I will engage the MP of the area to check what is happening and see what we can do about it,” he said.
The constituency’s current MP, Victoria Kingston, indicated that in the current financial year, she has other priorities. She, however, expressed commitment to complete the project.
“When I got elected as MP last year, there were a number of projects that I planned to complete. That under-five clinic is one of them. But currently we are constructing another health facility close to that clinic. That is where our focus is,” Kingston said.
She added: “We will consider finishing that project in the next financial year. In fact, that is not the only project that needs completion. We have another one at Makawa Trading Centre. It is also in our plans.”
Meanwhile, Malawi Health Equity Network Executive Director, George Jobe, has said it is regrettable that the community’s expectations are not being met.
“If the project was initiated through CDF or any other initiative, the district council should be supportive. It should visit the community, understand the project, commend the community members for their effective participation and support completion of the structure.
“It can be for outreach under-five [initiatives] including immunisation. If left unattended to, it may backfire next time a project arises and requires community participation,” Jobe said.
He added that under-five clinics are important because that is where most of child health matters are attended to.
“These include nutrition and immunisation. Communities are assured of healthy children when their babies are provided with under-five services.
Stunting and malnutrition are avoided. Child mortality is prevented. It is commendable when community members understand the importance of the clinic,” he said.
This is a structure which would have played a crucial role in the provision of health care, especially to children. But for now, people of Nkali in Mangochi have to wait.
If duty-bearers do not live up to their word, they will even forget when they promised to follow up on the project, just as the people have forgotten when it started.