Enhancing child vaccination in hard-to-reach areas with Mother Care Groups

Until child mortality hit their areas hard, communities in Traditional Authorities (T/As) Chikho and Chilooko in Ntchisi did not appreciate the importance of vaccinating children against diseases such as malaria, measles and polio.

Ntchisi District Hospital senior health surveillance assistant (SHA), Ireen Chalungama, attributed the parental vaccine hesitancy to lack of awareness and knowledge deficit on health risks associated with delaying or refusing children some or all vaccines.

SGVH (standing) Chawinga explaining the role chiefs and community leaders have taken–Photo by Watipaso Mzungu, Nyasa Times

Chalungama said refusing children vaccination risks not only the health of children, but also other people with weakened immune systems due to other diseases or medications they are taking.

“They didn’t know that when diseases attack, they not only have a direct impact on children and their parents, but also carry a high price tag for the society as a whole. It requires expensive and time-consuming treatment,” she explained.

Rodrick narrating the strides the group has made in getting every child vaccinated against diseases–Photo by Watipaso Mzungu

Ntchisi Evangelical Churches Consortium for Social Services (NECCOSS) coordinator Matthias Chindungwa said reasons behind vaccine hesitancy in the district are complex and encompass more than just a knowledge deficit.

Chindungwe highlighted cultural beliefs, myths and misconceptions as some of the factors that used to discourage parents from getting their children immunized.

Since 2018, Malawi Health Equity Network (MHEN) has been implementing Health Systems Strengthening Project designed to address parental vaccine hesitancy in primary care.

The five-year project is being implemented in nine districts of Blantyre, Lilongwe, Mchinji, Dowa, Ntchisi, Kasungu, Mzimba South, Mzimba North and Chitipa and is receiving financial support from Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunizations (GAVI) through the Ministry of Health.

And through this project, MHEN facilitated the formation of Mother Care Groups (MCGs), which are advocating for an early start, presenting vaccination as the default approach, building trust, being honest about side effects, providing reassurance on a robust vaccine safety system, focusing on protection of the child and community, telling stories, and addressing pain.

The groups are also supporting service delivery, advocating and mobilizing resources for health.

Each MCG comprises 30 members and a Group Village Head (GVH) and its roles include defaulter tracing, conducting sensitization meetings, conducting advocacy meetings, registering newborns and pregnant mothers.

Sophlet Rodrick is the chairperson of Chafumbwa MCG in T/A Chilooko. Speaking at a stakeholders’ meeting at Chafumbwa Trading Centre last Friday, Rodrick said the project has contributed significantly to the reduction in vaccine default rates and child deaths in the area.

However, she lamented that despite the strides, the community faces mobility challenges to enhance and promote child immunization campaign in the area.

Through community efforts, MCG repaired the motorcycle, which the HSA is now using to deliver vaccines to designated under-five clinics across the area.

“But it’s not the reliable mode of transportation of vaccines, as it is very old and sometimes breaks down while on the way to deliver the vaccines,” she said.

And in an effort to reduce the distance women travel to vaccinate their children against measles and polio, the group requested the community to contribute sand and bricks for the construction of an under-five clinic in their community.

Rodrick said they are working with traditional and community leaders to implement the project.

Senior Group Village Head (SGVH) Chawinga said he is in full support of the initiatives the all-women group has undertaken to address child deaths in the area.

Chawinga said, in collaboration with traditional leaders under him and Area Development Committee (ADC) leadership, they mobilized bricks and sand, which they used to construct the clinic.

“This is a worthwhile project and we are in full support of the group,” he said.

Chiyanjano MCG in T/A Chikho, Solofonika Bizwick, said apart from eradicating vaccine default and child deaths, the group is addressing sanitation and hygiene challenges to address disease outbreak and infection.

Bizwick said, among others, that the group has already dug 30 modern pit latrines for its members.

“We call our latrines ‘mwamuna apumule’ because they last for 27-30 years before a family can think of digging another one. The next step is to dig pit latrines for non-members, but at a fee so that the resources we get from there should go towards supporting our activities,” she narrated.

MHEN project officer Maness Msowoya said the project envisages that preventable deaths of newborns and under-five children should be history by 2030.

Msowoya added that the project seeks to ensure that barriers to equitable and quality immunization are reduced, enabling women, children and communities to access quality immunization services and healthcare and improved quality and uptake of immunization services.

“Essentially, this project seeks to contribute towards the achievement of the country’s target for Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by strengthening the capacity of integrated health systems to deliver immunization by resolving health constraints, increasing the level of equity in access to services and strengthening civil society engagement in the health sector,” she explained.

Chalungama has disclosed that over 90 percent of the children have been fully immunized in T/As Chikho and Chilooko.

“Our main goal is to reach a 100 percent vaccination rate,” she said.

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