By Naomi Kalemba, UNICEF Malawi
It is mid-morning at Mdeka health center. The hospital yard is full of people. They are women with babies on their backs men helping patients off bicycle taxis and others busking in the morning sun waiting for their turn to be seen by the clinicians.
The maternity ward is filled with new mothers and mothers to be. They sit on concrete benches waiting their turn to be seen by midwives.
The ward has two old, but functional rooms. Both are clean, with floors mopped and infection prevention equipment neatly covered and packed away. “We treat 50-80 patients and deliver about five babies every day.” says Jola Nagumula, a midwife at the health center.
Mdeka treats many patients as the nearest major hospital, Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital, is more than 10 kilometers away.
Bringing water back to Mdeka
Nagumuli is a confident young midwife, who loves his work, but it wasn’t always this way. The water supply system developed a fault and without any funding to repair it, the hospital ran without running water for two years.
“The birthing process needs a lot of water. With limited water supply it was difficult to maintain the standards of cleanliness and infection prevention that are required.” says Nagumuli.
In August 2018 UNICEF supported contractors arrived to install a solar powered water pump.
Nagumuli says, “Before the solar powered pump was installed, pregnant mothers and their guardians used water from a borehole that is 500 meters away” he says.
“A convenient and consistent water source makes our work easy and enjoyable. Safe water helps in managing the spread of infections.”
Secured inside a concrete building, the pump uses the power of the sun to draw water from the ground before the water passes through a chlorinator and spills into an elevated tank, which holds 10,000 litres. This water helps in managing and treating more than 300 patients who are seen at Mdeka health center on a daily basis. Hospital staff and community members are responsible for ensuring the safety and maintenance of the water system.
“Solar powered water pumps are efficient because they do not need electricity, batteries or generators to run. They are easy to maintain and can last for years before needing replacement,” said Blessius Tauzie, UNICEF WASH Specialist.
“We encourage pregnant mothers to come to the hospital a few days before their due date. While waiting for delivery, they need to cook and do laundry. All these things need water.” adds Jola.
Establishing clean, functional health centers
“The health facilities come in many forms in Malawi. We have community centers, district and referral hospitals. Data from 54 countries, representing over 65,000 health facilities, shows that 38 per cent of them do not have improved water source,” says Tedla Damte UNICEF Malawi chief of health.
In order to ensure the survival of mothers and newborn babies, Damte says all health facilities should be equipped with water, hygiene and sanitation facilities which will enable health care providers to provide care including maternity services, with dignity, while preventing and controlling infections”.
Currently, with the support of the European Union, UNICEF supports more than 21 health centers with solar powered water pumps and other water, sanitation and hygiene services.