The country’s Presidential Initiative on Maternal Child Health and Safe Motherhood was set up as a commitment to improve the uptake of maternal and neonatal health care and reduce death on those parameters in line with the phased out Millennium Development Goals.

Since its inception during the late and former President Bingu wa Mutharika, the initiative made head way in reducing maternal and neonatal deaths although with political bickering in the appointments of its officers to run the program. Consequently, the office has been labeled by Malawians as a political wing of the governing party for easy way siphoning funds as donors are usually the main financiers.

During the Joyce Banda regime, the initiative made much noise and even got international recognition which eventually ended up having so many partners for financial and material support.

Madam Calista Mutharika (The first lady to the late Bingu) and Dorothy Ngoma served as National Coordinators for Safe Motherhood during President Bingu Mutharika and Joyce Banda regimes respectively.

Currently, Chimwemwe Chipungu is the Chief Director (National Coordinator) for the Safe Motherhood under President Peter Mutharika but is struggling financially in running the show of the initiative over two years now.

The Maravi Post (MP)’s reporter Lloyd M’bwana, in the capital Lilongwe, caught up with Chipungu as to why the office has been struggling financially, operating in hibernation, current status of maternal health issues in the country and the plans a head. Excerpts:

MP: Mr.Chipungu, you are almost two years in office as Chief Director for Safe Motherhood, how has been the journey?

Chipungu: Well, I’m now indeed a Chief Director for Safe Motherhood previously called National Coordinator appointed by Head of State-Peter Mutharika in July 2014. Honestly, it has been a rough journey with full of ups and downs. But all in all we  are making strides to accelerate the reduction of maternal and neonatal mortality rates.

MP: Is safe motherhood really an initiative to reckon with basing on the silence of your office perhaps leaving Malawians wondering if  they have a coordinator who is doing his work in this area? 

Chipungu: Ohoo, yes! Safe motherhood initiative is still ticking. Why doubting the initiative’s mandate? Actually, we are into four components of operations including community mobilization and training of chiefs, construction of maternity waiting homes, training of community midwifery assistants and promotion of girl child education.

MP: With due respect Mr. Chipungu, since your appointment into this position, you have been operating in hibernation that even no single shelter home has been opened. Are you really working?

Chipungu: Ha!ha!ha!ha! (Laughs). You still doubt of my capability in this post which I don’t mind. In fact, there’s progress underground regarding to construction of shelter homes which are three in total, just finished to be open and ready for use in Mlomba (Machinga), Bvumbwe (Thyolo) and Chintheche (Nkhatabay). Since my attainment on this position, one shelter home in Ntcheu has been opened.

Therefore, for these maternity waiting homes to be operational, they need money and resources and these monies come from donor partners who have stopped supporting the initiative due to cash gate scandal. Most corporate companies and development partners aren’t coming forthwith with financial support for fear of their resources to be misused.

Additionally, after the change of power from former President Joyce Banda to the incumbent President Peter Mutharika, evil minded people went to the initiative’s partners painting the bad image of my office that now it’s a political wing regarding to my past background of former Democratic Progressive Party (DDP)’s National Organizing Secretary which I resigned soon after the appointment. All of these are dragging down our operations.

MP: That is understandable. But how should the public separate the two, being former DPP National Organizing Secretary and now Safe Motherhood Chief Director?

Chipungu: Wow! This is a difficult question to respond. But listen, this is the Presidential Initiative on Safe Motherhood, meaning that the appointing authority is the President who is also a politician and manning a political party which is DPP, the party I served as its National Organizing Secretary.

So, after the appointment into this post, I immediately quit that political party position to serve in a new capacity for safe motherhood while working with the government of the day. What’s wrong with that as the country needs officers to address infants and maternal mortality rates? I think we have a problem as a nation.

MP: In this regard, what are you doing for the public to understand and what’s the nature and model of your office’s funding?

Chipungu: Honestly, there’s a big task ahead of us but all in all we have been to our partners seeking for support who are willing to come back. However, while waiting for their financial support resumption, my office has lined up fundraising events this year including the month of May with expectation to host a grand golf tournament to raise funds for the office operations. The office used to get full funding from donors but with the current public public reforms, Ministry of Health is now the main financier of Safe Motherhood Initiative.

MP: Two years in office, can you show Malawians something?

Chipungu: Ohooo, yes! (Nodding the head). We have done a lot including training community midwifery assistants, traditional leaders, and construction of the three shelter homes yet to be opened soon. However, what I will leave as a legacy is the launch of the new strategic plan which will guide the operation of the office. In this new strategic planning, we  intend to incorporate family planning, abstraction, antenatal, postnatal care and treatment of sexually transmitted diseases including HIV and AIDS. As such all stakeholders will be invited for their input into the implementation of the new strategic plan expected to be launched in November 2016.Therefore, combination of these services, definitely, maternal mortality rates will be a thing of the past.

MP: What’s the current status of maternal health in Malawi and are we making head way?

Chipungu: Currently, the nation is standing at the rate of 574 deaths per 100,000 live births. Honestly, this isn’t good grade for Malawi. We should do better than this as the figures are higher than anticipated. But if we embrace all pillars of safe motherhood, the nation might register lower figures on maternal health.

MP: Your predecessor and the general public have accused you of operating in hibernation. Are they reading too much on you that this position is bigger than your shoes?

Chipungu: Mmmmh (doubting). I beg to differ what other people are saying about my position that the office is operating in hiding. In fact, they are entitled to their opinion on how they perceive this office. The problem with my office is that it doesn’t blow its own trumpet but rather go on the ground to do the work. We can’t always be in the media all the time that we have done this and that. And if they say the position am serving is bigger than my self then they must be joking because I’m qualified enough for the job.

MP: How close and related are you with your predecessor, Dorothy Ngoma regarding to transition of power for the smooth running of this office because we have been hearing a lot between you two?

Chipungu: Wow, what a question! Frankly speaking, after my appointment to this position, Ngoma was the first person to be approached for handover, guidance and get a feel of what entails to be in this office. Unfortunately, she took it in a bad way by castigating, calling me all sorts of names for reasons I don’t know even now. But I understand her feelings because she supported the previous regime not the current one of DPP. So, you can’t expect something good coming out of her for my coming as I belong to the governing party. This is very unfortunate for the nation as we belong to one country regardless of different political affiliations.

MP: Our readers might be interested to know briefly about your academic background if you are indeed fit for this position?

Chipungu: You are right that the public must know my education background. I did my secondary school at Malamulo (Secondary) and studied clinical medicine at Malamulo college of Health Sciences and went further with Masters Degree in Public Health in England. Therefore, I feel am fit for this post.

MP: Lastly, what word are you leaving us together with our readers?

Chipungu: The clear message to the general public is that they should regard my office as a government entity not a political wing of DPP. They shouldn’t judge the office because of me but rather activities and programs initiated on the ground aimed at reducing infants and maternal mortality rate. We need to work together as one people with one mind to move this nation forward.

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