Japanese Ambassador visits village health clinic in Dedza

The Japanese Ambassador talking to women outside Chimphandu village clinic in Dedza district.
© UNICEF/Malawi/2017/ G Nyirenda

By Naomi Kalemba, UNICEF Malawi

On a recent morning, five-month-old Elita Kabison of Chimphandu village woke up with a fever. Her mother noticed that she was also refusing to breastfeed, despite this being her favorite thing to do. Elita’s mother quickly took her to Chimphandu village clinic for treatment. She was first in line. The Health Surveillance Assistant, Steve Semo, evaluated her and concluded that she had malaria. He gave her an anti-malaria drug and baby Elita took the first dose at the clinic.

Steve emphasized to Elita’s mother the importance of finishing the treatment even when signs of sickness disappear. He also requested her to bring back baby Elita for a follow up check after five days.

The consultation happened in the presence of Japanese Ambassador, Her Excellency Ms. Kae Yanagisawa, who came to visit the clinic that morning. She was accompanied by UNICEF Malawi Representative, Johannes Wedenig, and Dowa District Health Officer, Dr Jere. Together they observed the whole process from assessment to treatment.

The Ambassador was visiting Chimphandu village clinic to see the impact of the support that Japan provides to Malawi’s integrated Community Case Management (iCCM) programme, which is run by the Ministry of Health with support from UNICEF. The main objective of this programme is to increase access to quality health care for children. It brings health care services to people that live in communities classified as hard to reach areas. These are areas located more than five kilometers away from the nearest health facility.

Steven Semo assesses a child for malnutrition at Chimphandu village clinic.
© UNICEF Malawi/2017/G Nyirenda

At Chimphandu village clinic, the Ambassador also observed other health workers administering vaccines, conducting growth monitoring sessions, to check for malnutrition, and assisting mothers with family planning. Health Surveillance Assistants are taught how to assess and treat diarrhoea, malaria and pneumonia in children aged 2–59 months. They are also taught how to collaborate with local communities and create demand for their services.

The large number of mothers that the Ambassador saw and talked to at Chimphandu village clinic is a clear sign that the services provided by Health Surveillance Assistants are important and in high demand. Through the programme, mothers have adopted new behaviors like identifying danger signs in sick children, prompt seeking of care, and improved hygiene and sanitation to prevent diseases.

Steve said that, when the clinic was newly established in 2014, he used to treat 5–12 children per day suffering from mostly malaria and diarrhoea. During the rainy season, cases would rise. On the day of the Ambassador’s visit, three years after he started the UNICEF supported iCCM programme, Steve only had four children to treat.

The Japanese funded iCCM program works with 1,700 health surveillance assistants across 13 district in Malawi including Balaka, Dedza and Mzimba. The program provides drugs and equipment for use in village clinics. It also supports supervision and mentorship of the health workers, in order to ensure that children receive quality care at the community level in order to increase their chances of survival beyond five years.

The large number of mothers that the Ambassador saw and talked to at Chimphandu village clinic is a clear sign that the services provided by Health Surveillance Assistants are important and in high demand. Through the programme, mothers have adopted new behaviors like identifying danger signs in sick children, prompt seeking of care, and improved hygiene and sanitation to prevent diseases.

Steve said that, when the clinic was newly established in 2014, he used to treat 5–12 children per day suffering from mostly malaria and diarrhoea. During the rainy season, cases would rise. On the day of the Ambassador’s visit, three years after he started the UNICEF supported iCCM programme, Steve only had four children to treat.

The Japanese funded iCCM program works with 1,700 health surveillance assistants across 13 district in Malawi including Balaka, Dedza and Mzimba. The program provides drugs and equipment for use in village clinics. It also supports supervision and mentorship of the health workers, in order to ensure that children receive quality care at the community level in order to increase their chances of survival beyond five years.

Ambassador Kae Yanagisawa observes Steve Semo treating baby Elita. 
© UNICEF/Malawi/2017/ G Nyirenda

Reducing child deaths

Group village headman Chimphandu explained the change in stark terms. “Before 2014, we used to bury at least two children every month,” he said. “Now child deaths have reduced to two every year. Two every month was too much to bear for us.”

District health officer, Dr Jere, agreed. “In a community of 3,488 people, 193 of which are under the age of five, two deaths a month were too much by any standard.” He added: “There are now 271 village clinics in Dedza district which provide treatment for common illnesses to over 128,098 under five children living in hard to reach areas.”

The Japanese Ambassador reflected on the history of her own country. “Japan grappled with high maternal mortality rates and a tuberculosis crisis in the 1950s and 1960s,” she said. “The Japanese Government used its resources, structures and collaborated with communities to end maternal deaths and the TB crisis.”

She added that the efforts the Malawi government is making through programs like the UNICEF-supported village clinics were “steps in the right direction to reduce child mortality.”

Ambassador Kae Yanagisawa walks out of a structure currently being built to accommodate HSA, Steve Semo
© UNICEF Malawi/2017/G Nyirenda

Later, the Japanese Ambassador and UNICEF Representative were taken to see a waste management pit, an incinerator that the village committee built at the clinic, and a house that village residents are building for Steve, so that he can live closer to the village clinic. The fact that the community is doing this with their own time and money, shows how much value they place in the Health Surveillance Assistant, and the work that he is doing to keep their children alive and healthy.

The Japanese Ambassador with Steve Semo and other HSAs who run village clinics in Dedza district. 
© UNICEF/Malawi/2017/ G Nyirenda

Leave a Reply