By Tiwonge Kumwenda
A visit to some rural areas in three districts in the northern region of Malawi, women couldn’t hide their faces any longer but express their dissatisfaction and anger toward their own elected leaders as well as government especially when it comes to health issues.
Despite some does not believe the existence and power of God, in all the visited areas life is a miracle.
In Mpata village, the area of Traditional Authority (T.A) Kyungu in Karonga district, the community especially pregnant women said their only hopes of giving birth are Traditional Birth Attendances (TBAs).
They said, going to TBAs is not part of traditional belief as portrayed by some of health expert but lack of health services in their areas.
This reporter understand that government abolished TBAs but pregnant women in Mpata who depend on Mpata Health Center believe that the ban was a way of punishing innocent women as government fails to give all necessary facilities to embrace the health policy.
Grace Mkenja of Mwamkenja village in the area [Mpata] says, apart from covering long distances, women are forced to deliver in public place.
“Giving life to the world is the most precious thing that every woman is proud of, but when it comes to women in my area the opposite is true,” lamented mkenja.
She said “since the ban of TBA’s, we are supposed to leave our homes when a woman is in her eighth month but we fail to do so because our health center has no shelter or a maternity wing to take refugee, that is why we wait up to the ninth month to visit the hospital.”
“As a result, we are forced to cover a distance of about 18 kilometers to reach the clinic where I also met humiliation especially for giving birth in a room where patients [men, children] receive their medication,” she continued.
Concurring with Mkenja, Christina Mkandawire from the same village said “the only way to enjoy giving birth in my area is to go to the main hospital where we cover a distance of 35 to 40 Kilometers.”
“Those with money make it in pursuing privacy and dignity when their babies are to be born, which many of us cannot afford,” she continues.
Councilor of the area Patrick Kishombe attributed the problem to some of top officials in Government who does not put the welfare of their fellow Malawians at heart.
According to Kishombe, the problem of Mpata Health Center in his area could have been a history as funds to build the same were allocated but abused miserably.
He says, the health center is one of the multi-million kwacha project which was abandoned by its contractor just a month after construction work started in 2012.
“It is not a hidden fact that people in my area are still encountering poor health service deliver and the complaints expressed by women are true refraction of what is on the ground,” said the ward councilor.
“Imagine the whole health center only operates with one structure which is used as an OPD, Dispensary, Maternity wing, Women’s shelter and also Administration Office against an average population of 23 000 households,” he continues.
Kishombe revealed “MK109 Million was realized to put up structures to support the facility but from the onset of the development, strange arrangements were noted as the contractor Ziwuyu Moyo came in with contraction materials and ground laborers which were drawn from other districts, only to manage a foundation of one structure and unceremoniously abandoned it barely a month.”
Principle Group Village Kalambo said “we have made several efforts since then to follow up with the District Health Office (DHO) and the Director of Public Development for Karonga on the future of the project but it yields nothing.”
He continues “seeing that our district officers were not helping us, the community as a whole took effort to go to Lilongwe to present a petition concerning our health center but up to date to no avail.
According to Chief Kalambo, in 2017 the petition which was signed by him, councilor of ward, Area Development Committee members among others was delivered to the Principle Secretary for Health Dr Dan Namalika demanding answers on the abandoned project.
He says “the ministry assured us to take up the issue as soon as possible but 3 years down the line nothing has happen to bail out my people.”
Mpata health center Officer in Charge Frankline Madise could not deny the fact that people in the area are receiving poor health services.
According to him, the problem started in 2009 when the OPD structure was hit by an earth quake.
“ We have really deprived the community around here to access good health services more especially women as the structure which was meant to be a maternity wing, is the one we are using as an OPD and office work,” said Madise.
He concurred with women cries saying “it is true Government banned the TBA’s in 2007 and Traditional Leaders in this area fine everyone found doing the practice a sum of MK5000 but as the hospital we have failed them.”
“We don’t have a shelter to keep them while waiting for their time and waste enough we are using their structure to save all kinds of people as a result there is no privacy when they are giving birth,” Madise continued.
He then reveals that “we encounter not less than 3 births which happen along the way to reach here in a month but we don’t know how many women opt to deliver in their homes secretly.”
Karonga district is not only district in the northern part of Malawi affected by the disaster of projects being unceremoniously abandoned by its contractors after money is allocated.
With the support of Oxfam and Integrity Platform, community members of Chitipa and Rumphi district share their own experience on the tendency.
According to Daniel Mulungu of Traditional Authority Mwenemusuku said “ my wife was forced to deliver at home because I failed to source money for her to go to the main hospital as our nearby clinic was left uncompleted long time ago.”
“She supposed to cover a distance of 50 to 60 Kilometers to reach the district hospital which is a torcher for a pregnant woman as such we opt to give birth at home though I was fined with a goat,” he continued.
Councilor of the ward Newton katenga concurred with Mulungu saying “cases of women giving birth at home is not a strange thing in my area because people walk long distance to reach the main hospital and members of my community regard the ban of TBA’s as a tool to torment poor villagers who cannot afford reaching the district hospital.”
Katenga revealed that “It was in 2013 when MK15million was allocated in my area to build Kapoka Health Center to bail out the problem but the contractor left it at foundation level till now we have not held anything from him.”
“The issue was taken to the DHO and also the DC’s office to find out what went wrong but 5 years now nothing is being done though we were assured that the project will continue,” he continued.
Group Village Headman Kasumbaji of Rumphi said “my district is not excluded from this corrupt practice, making things worse when the communities report the case to the responsible offices, no action is taken to bring the culprits to court.”
According to Kasumbaji, Hewe Health Center, Rura Health center, Kanyerere health center are among the clinics hugging in Rumphi, leaving the community in despair.
In all the visited areas, the district authorities deny to shade more lights of the story saying the projects were directly handled by the central government without their knowledge.
Meanwhile, the Public Relations Officer for Health Joshua Malango assured the community that things will resume.
“The Ministry is looking into the matter and soon together with the councils will make sure that the projects emerge,” said Malango.
Malawi Government banned TBAs who assisted women in the rural areas when giving births in 2007.
According to MoH spokesperson, the Ministry recommends that people should not walk more than five kilometers to access a health facility.
However, with the blame game and figure pointing by responsible authorities, people in the rural areas will continue suffering to access good health facilities.