Mobile clinics reaching children in flood-affected areas

Malawi commemorated World Health Day on 10th April, with a call for universal health coverage. UNICEF is ensuring that children and families displaced by floods get the health care they need.

First time mother Ethel with her baby, Patricia at Kathebwe camp in Zomba
© UNICEF Malawi/2019/Thoko Chikondi

By Naomi Kalemba, UNICEF Malawi

It had been raining nonstop for three days and water was rising slowly. First it filled out the yard, then covered the verandah area before seeping into the mud and stick house belonging to Ethel Mwaonga. “I woke up to the sound of people screaming and scrambling to get into boats,” Ethel recalls. “I took my baby and a few clothes and ran into a boat.”

“I was wet, cold and trying to keep my new baby warm. It was very frightening,” Ethel says. “I thought I was going to die.”

Carrying her one-month old daughter, Ethel arrived at Kathebwe school where she found a lot of families from her village. The chief divided them into groups. Women and children were allocated one classroom while men we put in another. Ethel and Patricia have been there for the last four weeks.

“I lost a lot of things in the floods. I lost some of my crops, kitchen utensils, cloths and documents. Our house was damaged and needs a lot of work before we can return,” she says, “luckily my husband is fixing the house”.

The rains have stopped for now and people at the camp sit in groups under tree shades and on classroom verandahs to pass time. Children play in groups while some women are cook in the grass thatched school kitchen a few meters away from the classroom blocks.

The assistant environmental health officer for Zomba district, Michael Luhanga, says there are over 2500 people at Kathebwe school camp. This includes about 260 children under the age of five. “Naturally children under the age of five need a lot of care. In overcrowded circumstances like these, that care needs to continue. Otherwise when diseases spread they are the first to get sick and die,” he says. UNICEF is providing medicines and transport to bring medical staff to the camps in order to avoid any break in health service delivery during this emergency situation.

Health services for every child, everywhere including in emergency situations

Carrying her baby on her back, Ethel stands in a long queue waiting for her turn to be seen by the community health worker.

This will be baby Patricia’s second health appointment since birth. “She is due for her first vaccines. I am a bit nervous to see her being injected but also very happy that even in a camp like this she is still able to be seen by doctor,” she says. “I also want to know if she has gained any weight since birth.”

Baby Patricia receiving her first ever vaccine at Kathebwe camp
© UNICEF Malawi/2019/Thoko Chikondi

When Ethel’s turn to meet the health worker comes, she sits down and makes her daughter  comfortable. In the absence of Patricia’s health passport, which was lost in the floods, the community health worker asks Ethel a few questions to establish her daughter’s age and health history as well as Ethel’s.

The community health worker establishes that baby Patricia will need four vaccines. Before administering the vaccines, she talks to first time mom Ethel about exclusive breastfeeding, sanitation and hygiene and family planning options.

UNICEF Health Specialist, Steve Macheso says, “it is important to maintain the delivery of routine health services in the camps to avoid the spread of highly infectious diseases like measles and cholera that may start and spread in congested camps”.

“I want to go back home,” Ethel says. “The camp is not a good place to raise a child and build a family. Food is scares, it is overcrowded and there is no privacy. she explains. “We will have to start from scratch, but I still look forward to going back home.”

UNICEF’s support

Health care providers at Kathebwe camp in Zomba
© UNICEF Malawi/2019/Thoko Chikondi

UNICEF with support from UK aid is bring health services to displaced children and families in the camps through mobile clinics. The mobile clinics provide a range of services such as, immunization, nutrition screening, growth monitoring, antenatal care, family planning, HIV counselling and testing and general outpatient services. This is in addition to supplies like packets of oral rehydration solution, mobile toilets and hundreds of insecticide-treated bed nets that have already been distributed in camps to prevent the spread of diseases like Cholera and Malaria.

Funding needs

UNICEF estimates funding needs of US $8,265,000 to meet the immediate and medium-term needs of children and women throughout the affected areas. The organization also needs to restock supplies in warehouses, in case of another flood or disaster. If you live in the United States, you can donate online here: https://bit.ly/2Hr0Nbm. If you live in Australia, you can donate online here:  http://bit.ly/Cyclone-Idai-Appeal. If you live in the United Kingdom you can donate online here: https://www.unicef.org.uk/donate/cyclone-idai/ and if you live in German you can donate on line here: https://www.unicef.de/spenden/jetzt-spenden.

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