In Lilongwe the Capital of Malawi, Bwaila hospital is located in the middle of the central business district. The hospital is surrounded by an array of shops that sales various merchandise and a bus terminal nearby. Patients are always greeted by vehicle horns and shouts from minibus call boys who scramble for customers to various locations of the city.
But as business booms on the other side of the coin – sad faces of groups of women carrying branches of trees symbolizing death with no coffin but remains wrapped in cloth carried with hands – file out the hospital gate.
The women head to the nearest cemetery to bury remains of children died during the process of birth at the health facility. They all walk on foot to Biwi graveyard almost 2 kilometers away, along the main road to Blantyre road from the hospital. This is where the remains of children are buried.
Women literally walk to the graveyard not because they wish to do so, no. The reason is because ambulances supposed to carry the remains are grounded due to fuel shortages as a result of underfunding to the health service from government treasury.
Harriet Banda, a banana seller at the entrance of the hospital says she always see the groups of elderly women going to Biwa grave yard to bury dead infants as a results of health complications and challenges as some of the causes.
“I see two groups of different women sometimes,” says Banda, a business lady who ply her trade daily at the hospital entrance.
Child deaths during birth forms the core findings of a detailed global United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) 2014 that suggest that more than 70 per cent of almost 11 million deaths annually are attributed to six causes namely: Diarrhoea, Malaria, Neo-natal infection, Pneumonia, preterm delivery, and lack of oxygen at birth. The report state that under-five mortality rate is estimated to be at 64 per 1000 live births.
UNICEF recommends that Malawi can prevent neonatal related deaths if the country can channel enough resources to the health sector.
Global Health Index Analysis Reports (GHAR) collaborates with UNICEF. GHAR observes that annually 10.5 million children die, 4 million in the first month of life, mostly 48 percent in sub Saharan Africa and 35 in south Asia.
Reacting to the report MamaYe Health Initiative, an international organization dealing with the neonatal and maternal health, Country Team Leader, Mathias Chatuluka says citizens need to be empowered with sufficient information so that they are aware about neo-natal and maternal health.
“As a global movement we aim at improving maternal and newborn survival by engaging with the public,” Chatuluka responds when asked to comment on the UNICEF report findings.
Chatuluka calls on the media to make health reporting a priority. He adds that high maternal deaths in Malawi present a worrisome situation and serious concerns about the health of mothers and children in a country.
The MamaYe boss says currently it is encouraging that Government of Malawi recognizes maternal and newborn health as one of the key priorities in the delivery of health services to its population.
“Currently, through the Health Sector Strategic Plan, maternal and newborn health comprise one of the key elements of essential health package following an assessment on the availability, quality and utilization of the emergency obstetric and neonatal care services (EmONC) in 2005, a Road Map for Accelerating the Reduction of Maternal and Neonatal Mortality and Morbidity in Malawi was developed,” said Chatuluka.
National Organization of Nurses and Midwifery (NONM) President Dorothy Ng’oma admitted that as a country “we have not done enough to end neo-natal and maternal deaths.”
Ng’oma a strong critic of poor health services said the case of Bwaila is as a result of various factors such as late operations, due to shortage of fuel. She observed that such problem happens every day even in districts hospital across the country. It’s a pity but Government is quiet
Adding;: “Where are politicians, where are MPs, where are churches, Dr Joyce Banda spoke heavily over the neonatal and maternal health but its Chiefs are now quite where are the media, let’s work up.”
Health and Rights Education program Executive Director; Maziko Matemba says government should invest much in basic emergency. Matemba said the country cannot reduce neonatal and maternal health unless the root causes are fully addressed.
Special Advisor to the President Peter Mutharika on Safe Motherhood, Callista Mutharika says the best thing that Malawi needs to do is appeal and follows family planning methods as part of population control.
“We have been hearing that there is shortage of drugs in hospitals, shortage of beds, shortage of food this is because of over population, since our resources remains the same, our but the population is so huge, we are exerting pressure on the resources,” she said.
Mutharika urges women to start attending atenatal centers when they are expectant.
Minister of Health Peter Kumpalume in response to the report acknowledges high figures in maternal and neonatal deaths describing them as worrisome to authorities and that many of these deaths are avoidable if basic health and obstetric care services are more widely available.
Kumpalume’s views agrees with those of GHAR over the specific causes of child deaths in Malawi and Africa as a whole
GHAR lists the major direct causes of child death and some illustrative essential interventions which could avert many child deaths if high health coverage was achieved. For example, 19 percent of under‐five deaths are due to pneumonia, which according to experts could be avoided through correct case management and antibiotics at primary care level or by community health workers.
“The causes of child deaths in Malawi are malaria, diarrhea diseases and acute respiratory infections, with malnutrition as the key contributing factor. This is not acceptable and we need concerted efforts to address the situation,” Kampalume told Nyasa Times.
According to the health minister, Malawi has registered notable success in most Maternal and Child Health (MCH) services since the 1990s.
“MCH services comprises of immunizations, antenatal and postnatal care, family planning, vitamin A supplementation, therapeutic and supplementary feeding,” adding , “My Ministry will focus on provision Vitamin A supplementary and de-worming tablets accompanies by an intensive social mobilization and information education and communication with emphasis on infant and young child feeding as well as using insecticide treated nets and hygiene. These successes have resulted in remarkable improvement in morbidity and mortality patterns, especially from diseases amenable to immunizations and other preventable childhood illnesses.”
Kumpalume added that they are targeting children aged 6 to 11 months and post- natal mother less than eight weeks to receive Vitamin A capsules. At the same time, children aged 12 to 59 months to receive Vitamin A and de-worming tablets.
The Health Ministry now targets 2, 609,699 children and 163, 104 post-partum mothers to be reached with Vitamin A supplementation while a total of 1,592,221 children are expected to be reached with de- worming tablets annually.Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :