The past year has been very rich for the Mwandama health team, which worked toward increasing access to health services and implementing innovative interventions. We are very proud of one major achievement: the completion of the Maera and Mwandama clinics as well as the Katete health post, and we look forward to inaugurating them once running water, solar power and staff housing are in place.
In the meantime, and in the absence of permanent health structures, Integrated Outreach Clinics (IOC) were successful in ensuring improved access to services like family planning, antenatal care, growth monitoring and immunizations of children under the age of five, rapid diagnostic testing and treatment of malaria and other infectious diseases. Other activities targeted health in schools, including de-worming, treatment of minor illnesses and referral, as well as home-based care for chronically ill people and those living with HIV/AIDS.
These outreach activities benefited more than 20,000 children and about 34,000 families who were visited in their homes for sanitation and hygiene inspection, as well as home-based care which included health education on various topics. Several patients also visited the upgraded laboratory at Thondwe health clinic that now offers TB screening. This has greatly assisted with the follow up of TB patients who previously had to walk long distances to the referral hospital in the neighboring city of Zomba.
Personal Hygiene and Sanitation Education (PHASE) activities were continued in 2010: buckets for hand washing were given to all 13 schools and soap provided on a regular basis, with the aim of promoting increased levels of hygiene and reducing diseases like diarrhea amongst school children. Pupils were taught how to look after the new equipment and ensure its proper use, and teachers were trained with specialized PHASE materials to help them promote sanitation and hygiene within schools.
School age children as well as under the five of age were also targeted by nutrition interventions. We participated in two Child Health Weeks organized in April and November by the Ministry of Health. During the campaign, new mothers and children aged between 6 months and 5 years received Vitamin A supplementation, and children aged 5 to 12 years got de-worming tablets. The campaign included education on the importance of using iodized salt. Some mothers even brought samples of their household salt to be tested for its iodine content.
This year we gave special attention to other neglected tropical diseases. In June, our team conducted eye screening in the cluster, in collaboration with the Himalayan Cataract Project (US) and the Penya Eye Hospital in Blantyre. Forty-four health personnel were trained in basic eye care, and 1,000 people received reading and distance glasses. Cataract surgery was also performed. The MVP health team is following up with patients to assess the socio-economic impact of the intervention.
‘I stopped reading my bible three years ago because I could not see. Now I can read with these glasses. I can see myself reading my bible again as well as singing hymns at church on Sunday,’ said a grateful Pauline Kazunguza, 59.
Our team also faced the challenge of the measles outbreak which hit the country. Despite high coverage of vaccination in Mwandama, we registered over 800 cases and five deaths in three months. We actively participated in the response to the outbreak in Zomba, which affected the cluster. The team worked hand in hand with the district health office in early identification of cases and treatment as well as filling medication gaps. A mass measles booster campaign which included children from six months to fifteen years was carried out in August, with a 97% coverage rate.
Finally, our team, which has used mobile health programs since 2009 to improve emergency response especially in maternal and child health, is in the process of scaling up m-health activities through the introduction of the Child Count program. In addition to having access to free calls through a closed user group, health workers will use SMS to coordinate activities such as registering patients, and sending information to a central database which will automatically alert them to patients’ needs and inform them of the appropriate response in real time. The program will be fully operational in early 2011.
Thandiwe Mijoya is the Health Coordinator for the MVP Mwandama cluster. She is based in Mwandama, Malawi.