Providing health care for camp babies and mothers

23-year-old Beatrice Harold gave birth 2 days after floods destroyed her house in Chikwawa.
© UNICEF Malawi/2019/Rebecca Phwitiko

Beatrice Harold and her newborn daughter have been living in a classroom at their local primary school ever since flood waters swept through southern Malawi three weeks ago. They were sleeping on the floor but have now moved outside to avoid the cramped conditions. They survive on the few cups of maize floor and rice they are rationed each day, and spend most of their time sitting in the playground.

“This place is not good for my baby,” says Beatrice, 23, “She can get all kinds of diseases here. I worry about her.”

But they have no choice but to stay put at Namitcheni primary school until the waters subside.

Some 85,000 people have been displaced by floods and heavy rain with most of the displaced being sheltered in schools, severely disrupting lessons. Across the country more than 800,000 people, more than half of them children, have been affected.

Beatrice was 35 weeks pregnant the day she was forced to flee her village in Chikwawa. “It had rained non-stop for a few days,” she recalls. “By the second week of March the water was rising past my knees and I knew I had to leave.”

At the school, she joined the other women sleeping in one of the classrooms. More people arrived at the school as the water flooded neighboring villages. On the morning of her third day in the camp Beatrice began experiencing intense pain in her back and belly. She was eventually taken to hospital 12 kms away by ambulance and gave birth the following morning.

“I spent another night in the hospital and was told I could go home,” she says. For now, home is still a congested primary school.

A health worker administers vaccines at Bangual Admarc camp in Nsanje, southern Malawi
© UNICEF Malawi/2019/Thoko Chikondi

UNICEF is supporting displaced children and families in 187 temporary camps across the country, many of them in schools. The UN agency is providing the displaced population with toilets, water treatment chemicals, buckets, education supplies, recreational kits as well as tents which are being used as temporary learning spaces.

Support is also being provided to district health teams which are supplying services to the camps. Teams of nurses, clinicians and other medical staff visit the camps every week to provide vaccines, family planning and antenatal services. They screen children for malnutrition and malaria, and supply drugs for TB and HIV treatment.

Beatrice worries about her daughter Given spending her first few weeks in a congested camp away from home. But at least she will not have to travel far for vaccines and other services to protect her daughter from common childhood illnesses.

District Commissioner for Chikwawa Lusizi Nhlane says UNICEF’s support to displaced families has been greatly appreciated. “We got a report of bloody diarrhea in one camp, so we really need dedicated teams providing health care to displaced families,” said Nhlane.

UNICEF Malawi Representative Johannes Wedenig walks through Bester Village in Chikwawa where families were forced to leave their homes
© UNICEF Malawi/2019/Rebecca Phwitiko

UNICEF Malawi Representative Johannes Wedenig said the needs of the displaced population were immense. “But is inspiring to see people picking up the little that is left as they start to rebuild their lives. All they need is a little support as they make the first steps to recovery.”

You can help

UNICEF estimates funding needs of US $8.265 million to meet the immediate and medium-term needs of children and women throughout the affected areas. The organisation also needs to restock supplies in warehouses, in case of another flood or disaster. If you live in the following countries, you can donate online here:

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