Nearly a decade ago, health surveillance assistant Noah Chipeta arrived at his new posting in Chanthunthu, situated in Malawi’s Kasungu District. He didn’t think he would be staying long. The small community of 11 villages is isolated – wedged between two rivers, which during the rainy season can cut off the entire area from the outside world.
At the time, the community did not have access to health services, and was losing many children to preventable diseases like malaria and diarrhoea. The nearest health centre is about 17 km away, but the connecting dirt roads are in bad shape. When it’s raining, the journey becomes even longer. Those seeking medical help have to avoid the swollen rivers by using another path through the rugged mountains.
“There were cases where parents would just give up,” says Noah. “The mountain paths are slippery during the rainy season and it puts the lives of both the parent and sick child at risk. So many would just stay home hoping that the sickness will go away.”
“We have had cases of children either collapsing or dying on the way to the health centre,” says Catherine Chisale, 35, a mother of six from the local community.
But she says that after Noah arrived, the number of deaths has reduced, especially of children.
Noah’s posting at Chanthunthu coincided with the launch of the integrated community case management (ICCM) approach in the area. With UNICEF support, the district health office started training health workers on how to offer basic medical treatment to children in the villages. Noah received the training and for the first time in years, children in the community could access treatment quickly.
“The community has been very supportive of the clinic,” Noah says. “In fact, they contributed by molding bricks and even with the actual construction of the clinic building. UNICEF supported us with metal sheets for the roof.”