Solar powered refrigerators supporting the Extended Program on Immunization (EPI) have enhanced the work of Tiyanjane and Chasolo mother care groups (MCGs) in the remote areas of Nkweche and Chasolo in Traditional Authority Chilooko in Ntchisi District, leading the two groups towards achieving set targets for child immunization.
The refrigerators are used for storing the vaccines that the two MCGs administer to under five children in order to immunize them against tuberculosis, polio and measles, among many other illnesses.
This was disclosed during interface meetings the two MCGs had with Malawi Health Equity Network (MHEN) which plays the role of demand creation and community mobilization in the Health Systems Strengthening Program (HSSP), a multi-player project funded by GAVI through the Ministry of Health.
The project, being implemented in Ntchisi and eight other districts, introduces and trains MCGs as tools for increasing child immunization coverage and advocates for improved health services provision.
The solar powered refrigerators are among many essentials Tiyanjane and Chasolo MCGs have been advocating that they be given to them in order to enhance their work, after acquiring advocacy skills through HSSP.
Speaking during an interface meeting with MHEN, Chairperson for Tiyanjane MCG, Olive Kanyani, expressed delight for having successfully advocated for the fridge, which is placed in the house of a Health Surveillance Assistant (HSA) and keeps the vaccines safe.
“We can immunize children anytime their parents want, now that we have the vaccines with us here full time. Otherwise, previously, on a fixed immunization day, the vaccines came on an ambulance, moving five kilometers from Malomo Health Centre. Or we walked that distance ourselves in order to bring the vaccines here. The children whose parents were busy with other things on the day, ended up missing immunization,” Kanyani said.
HSA for Nkweche, Yohane Solomon Phiri, concurred with Kanyani, adding that moving to and from Malomo exposed the vaccines to damage.
“Vaccines ought to be kept away from dust and sunshine. Well kept vaccines work effectively in the body. So, the presence of the refrigerator is a blessing to us here,” Phiri said.
Before the fridge came, according to Chairperson for Chasolo MCG Rhoda Blessings, an ambulance had to bring the vaccines, moving 25 kilometers from Malomo Health Centre. Or the group had to hire a motorcycle operator.
“But we faced challenges during rainy season. The ambulance got stuck in the mud. The motorcycle could not move. As a result, we could not immunize children on some days,” she said.
HSA for Chasolo, Prince Nyangulu, collaborated Blessings remarks, adding that “the presence of the refrigerator has improved immunization as defaulters still get vaccinated anytime”.
For successfully advocating for the solar powered refrigerators, Tiyanjane and Chasolo MCGs—who are among the 24 vibrant MCGs under HSSP in Ntchisi—are proving to be really empowered advocacy groups in lobbying for improved health services in their areas.
For instance, the 30-member Tiyanjane MCG, which is only one year old and administers vaccines to children in a village church, is also advocating to chiefs and community members to construct an under five clinic for the group.
On the other hand, the 30-member Chasolo MCG, which started in 2019 and successfully advocated for an under five space within Chasolo Health Post, is also advocating to duty bearers for a good access road, health office and HSA house in the area.
On construction of an under five clinic, Kanyani said Tiyanjane MCG has managed to convince 25 chiefs under Senior Group Village Head Nkweche to take part in the project. Each Village Head has mobilized their subjects to contribute 600 bricks and MK80,300.
“As a group, we also have a village bank with MK156,000 savings, part of which we will use to rent a three acre farmland on which we will grow soya during the next farming season. We will sell the produce and use the proceeds for construction of the under five clinic and promotion of child immunization work,” Kanyani said.
When Tiyanjane MCG came on the scene, according to HSA Phiri, child immunization coverage in Nkweche was below the set target of 80 percent. Now, the coverage has gone up to 87 percent, an achievement he attributes to sensitizations and tracking of defaulters by the group.
For Chasolo MCG, HSA Nyasulu said the group has managed to raise child immunization coverage from 75 percent to 86, an achievement he also attributes to easy access of the under five space and conducive environment at Chasolo Health Post.
MHEN Project Officer for the GAVI project, Beverly Bhima, commended Tiyanjane and Chasolo MCGs for the work they are doing, saying their advocacy skills have made a huge impact in immunization in Ntchisi.
She said if these groups are provided with more equipment and materials, more especially resources addressing their mobility and communication challenges, things would be more easier for them and the communities they serve.
“Child immunization is important, for it is a preventive measure for various illnesses. If we are immunizing more children in hard to reach areas, it means more children are eligible to reach their full potential to develop, which will also impact the development of the country. More immunized children means more healthy people, low infant mortality and more productive members in communities, which will enable the country to develop,” Bhima said.
She also called for collaboration of various stakeholders, duty bearers, district council and Ministry of Health, saying these will definitely have to ensure the sustainability of MCGs and the gains registered by such groups, after the pull out of MHEN and other HSSP partners.Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :