Mother Care Groups (MCGs) have been hailed for promoting child immunization in Ntchisi effectively triggering calls for introduction of more of such groups in the district.
The district was reportedly struggling to reach child immunization coverage target before 2019, achieving only 72 percent or below.
But the introduction of MCGs in some of the areas of the district in 2019, has reportedly increased child immunization coverage to 83 percent, igniting hope for more improvement.
This was disclosed during interface meetings involving Chafumbwa MCG in Traditional Authority (TA) Chikho, Chamwazi MCG in TA Chilooko, Malawi Health Equity Network (MHEN) and Ntchisi Evangelical Churches Consortium for Social Services (NECCOSS).
The meetings were held under the Health Systems Strengthening Program (HSSP), a multi-player project, which is funded by GAVI through the Ministry of Health.
The project, being implemented in Ntchisi and eight other districts, seeks to introduce and train MCGs as tools for increasing child immunization coverage and advocates for improved health services provision.
MHEN and NECCOSS roles are to demand creation and community mobilization and local implementing agent, respectively, resulting in the capacity building and empowerment of the MCGs in Ntchisi to be able to discharge their duties.
For instance, the 30-member Chafumbwa MCG, with the help of a Health Surveillance Assistant (HSA), are running a makeshift outreach clinic where they administer various vaccines, immunizing children against tuberculosis, polio and measles, among many other illnesses.
The group’s secretary, Zelita Misi, said they vaccinate about 30 children in a month, which, she added, was not the case before they came on the scene.
“We make sure that the villages we serve are represented in the group. We go about in our villages, giving awareness and urging people to bring their children for vaccination.
We trace and follow up on children that are not brought for vaccination, advising people that child immunization is very important because it also eliminates stunting in children,” said Misi.
She added that nurses and other medical personnel from Nzandu Health Center, which is 20 kilometers away, visit the outreach clinic once in a while to provide other services such as antenatal and postnatal, psychiatric and HIV/AIDS testing and counseling.
Janet Chabulika, secretary for Chamwazi MCG, concurred with Misi on the effectiveness of the MCGs, adding that her group, which also operates in a makeshift outreach clinic, vaccinates about 28 children in a month.
“Now, we have managed to convince village heads who have given us land where we want a new clinic and an HSA house built, starting from April 2022. We will be lobbying authorities and community members to help us make this a reality. We believe the new infrastructure will motivate us to do more good work,” Chabulika said.
Commenting on the MCGs testimonies, NECCOSS Field Officer, Joab Mpandambuto, said such is the ultimate goal of HSSP—to empower MCGs to be able to lobby from duty bearers the improved health services communities require.
“As the network of MHEN, NECCOSS, GAVI and other partners, we will ensure that these groups continue to receive all the necessary support they need. We will continue to build their capacities in various aspects,” Mpandambuto said.
Senior Health Surveillance Assistant at Malomo Health Center in TA Chilooko, Eneless Lileni, called for the introduction of more MCGs, saying this is the only sure way of reaching out to more children with vaccinations.
Apparently, there are currently only 18 MCGs across Ntchisi, with Malomo alone having four, so far.
Lileni disclosed that Malomo has now achieved 80 percent of child immunization coverage, which, she said, is worth celebrating.
“Otherwise we were struggling, scoring below 60 or 50 percent. It means if we have more of these groups, we can do even much better. Almost every child would be reached, hitting 90 or 100 percent target,” Lileni said.
Cold Chain Technician at Ntchisi District Hospital, Steven Chinzinga, concurred with Lileni, saying more MCGs are indeed required in the spirit of accelerating the implementation of “Reach every child immunization”.
“The 83 percent achievement, necessitated by the 18 MCGs, though pleasing, is not satisfactory. Some districts have actually surpassed us, reaching 90 or even 100 percent. So, increasing MCGs will be a success story for Ntchisi, from failure to success,” Chinzinga said.
And in his remarks, MHEN Executive Director, George Jobe, commended the MCGs for the good work, adding that their introduction has helped instill in communities a sense of ownership of health facilities.
On introducing and training more MCGs, Jobe said the issue will be presented to Ministry of Health, which is the principal recipient of the HSSP grant from GAVI.
“Our appeal to GAVI will be to expand the project to other districts and add more MCGs in current districts. This is very important.
“The MCG structure was actually adopted by the Ministry of Health. We, therefore, want the structure to be more publicized so that various organizations should be making use of them,” said Jobe, a renowned health rights activist.
The other districts where HSSP is being implemented, are; Blantyre, Lilongwe, Mchinji, Dowa, Kasungu, Mzimba North, Mzimba South and Chitipa.
According to Jobe, other players involved in the project include: Expanded Program on Immunization (EPI) in the Ministry of Health—which is the lead implementer, Community Health Directorate, Health Education Services, Kamuzu University of Health Sciences (KUHES)—which is responsible for capacity building and UNICEF, which is responsible for all procurements in the project.
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