MALAWI STILL STRUGGLES TO FULLY IMMUNIZE HER CHILDREN

Written by  Maryam Kaisi

It’s six o’clock in the morning in Likotima Village in Traditional Authority(TA) Kapeni in Blantyre, Malawi’s commercial city, and Patuma Adam is already on the road with her nine-months old baby, Mustakim Jordan, strapped on the back.

Painful, but necessary immunisation jab for children's survival. Painful, but necessary immunisation jab for children's survival.
14
September


She is on her way by foot to Limbe Health Center in the same district which is about nine kilometers from Chigumula for that important assignment: Getting her baby to be immunized against communicable diseases.


“I am going to get my child vaccinated, this is his last vaccine, am only hoping that I do not find a queue otherwise it’s frustrating to wait long on the line, but I do not have money to go to a private clinic”, Adam told MBC Online.

VACCINES ARE FOR SICK PEOPLE?


Adam, being an urban dweller understands why she has to get her baby vaccinated. But her village mate, Alewaga Duncane, a mother of five, says she has never taken her children for vaccines. “Why should I take my baby to the hospital when she has not been born with any health problem? Vaccines should be given to those that are sick”, she said, unbothered.

 

The practice is very common in her village as two women from the group, agreed with her.

 

Women prioritise their small businesses like Kachasu brewing (a locally brewed alcohol) and gambling over their children’s health.

 

These are the two worlds that you find in Malawian societies as some believe in vaccinations and others do not believe for various reasons. The community that does not believe in vaccinations most of them use holy scriptures like the Apostolic and the Zion churches, while others is just vaccine hesitancy.


While Malawi is a democratic and a Christian society where religious beliefs and rights are respected, some of these believes have got negative implications on the population today and in future. As data shows, most of the children who grow up without receiving Pneumococcal Conjugate Vaccine (PCV-13) are prone to diseases such as pneumonia, sepsis and meningitis.

 

There are over 400, 000 pneumococcal deaths worldwide every year, according to a 2020 Pneumococcal Vaccine Evaluation report by the Malawi Liverpool Welcome Trust and other research institutions.

 

SUB-SAHARAN MORTALITY RATES


A United Nations inter-agency Group for Child Mortality Estimation for 2020 indicated that one in 13 children in Sub-Saharan Africa died before reaching their fifths birthday in 2019.


Sub-Saharan Africa continues to be the region with the highest under five mortality rate in the world with 76 deaths per 1,000 live births, it added.

 

While some of the people believe in taking vaccines, they fail to access them because of the long distance. Meanwhile some organizations in the country already embarked on solving the
problem. MBC online came across an outreach clinic in the disaster-prone district of Chikwawa which has for the past four years brought neonatal services closer to the communities.

 

Situated 30 kilometers from the district’s referral hospital, the facility is a beacon of hope for scores of women in July Village in the area of TA Chapananga in the district.

 

Before this mobile clinic, it was difficult for women to access vaccines. Over 46 households from this area have so far benefitted from this temporary facility.

The Malawi Red Cross Society commissioned the health facility in the area to enhance health services.

 

“We saw that there was a great need in that area, people used to walk a long distance to access health services, so we decided to shorten the distance for them as most people women were reluctant to go to the district hospital. We have been supporting Ministry of Health with outreach under 5 clinics for a long time now”, Felix Washon from the Malawi Red Cross Society said.


According to Malawi Liverpool Welcome Trust, five percent of children born in Blantyre City do not access vaccines and the GAVI 2019 Joint Appraisal update report indicate that Malawi is known to have one of the most successful Expanded Programme on Immunization (EPI), in the African Region with sustained high coverage of routine immunization of about 80%.

 

However, in the year 2015/2016 the country had 76% fully immunized children as compared to 81% in 2010. This goes against the Sustainable Development Goals core theme which says ‘no one should be left behind’.

 

SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT GOALS

By having some children not vaccinated it means those children will be left behind, and will grow unhealthy and having a population that is not healthy it puts a strain on the national budget particularly the health budget since they are supposed to be given extra funds to cover for medication for children that missed the vaccines. This goes against Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) number three which ensures healthy lives and promotes wellbeing for all.

 

SDG three aspires to reduce child mortality and improves maternal health among others. If a child is unhealthy his or her school attendance as well as their academic performance will be affected.

 

Therefore, SDG number four which aspires to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promoting lifelong learning opportunities for all will not be achieved because the child will have to stay away from school for a couple of weeks when she or he is sick, or when an outbreak has occurred.


Additionally, SDG number four will be affected because for example Meningitis can lead to permanent deafness or brain damage, according to Health experts and this would disable a child attend school.

 

Speaking in an interview, a scholar from the University of Malawi, College of Medicine in Blantyre, Dr Jane Malewa, backed the administration of vaccines to children to prevention diseases, saying the number of  children dying before the age of 5 decreased tremendously after the introduction of vaccines.

CHILDREN'S LIFE AT RISK

“Refusing vaccine for your child puts his life and that of others at risk,” she said.

 

“Historically vaccines have changed the face of diseases in the world. Before, thousands of children died as compared to now,” Malewa said.

 

There have been different institutions like the Malawi Liverpool Welcome Trust and UNICEF which have been conducting several activities to ensure that children access vaccines by expanding immunization programs to sustain the national coverage of vaccines of about 80 percent.

 

Perhaps it is high time government establishes vaccine centers in the local markets and churches where women are mostly found to increase vaccine coverage but also schools should check health books for children to see if they are fully immunized before enrolling them.


In addition, Malawi’s healthy systems require a complementary role of different players including local leaders who are chiefs in promoting health issues. Immunization has the ability to do more than what it has already done.


There is also hope now that the newly elected President Dr. Lazarus Chakwera has shown interest in protecting the lives of children.


In his speech during the State of the Nation Address (sona) on September 4, Chakwera pledged that his administration will strive to meet the target of 350 deaths per 100,000 live births by 2022  and the SDG target of 70 deaths per 100,000 live births by 2030.

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