Two months ago, the community of Kasonga in Zomba District received a gas fridge from government to store vaccines for immunising its children.
Nothing could have excited the community more; especially a woman’s grouping which initiated such a consideration from government.
Kasonga Mother Group, formed on October 10 2015 worked hard to have the fridge to ensure cold storage of vaccines.
The arrival of the fridge on October 31 2018 remains a great testimony, especially to the women who wrote a proposal for its purchase, as they are forever grateful for being heard and are now beaming about minimizing their children’s immunization abscondment.
Situated in the a mountainous area and classified as a hard-to-reach area, Kasonga Health Post is 13 kilometres from Domasi Rural Hospital in Zomba, its nearest so far- and has experienced scores of children being born and growing up without the vaccines required to protect them for a healthy survival.
Travelling to the health post during the rainy season, it is easy to agree why Kasonga is classified as a hard-to-reach area.
It is 94.2 km from the commercial City of Blantyre and travelling there involves ascending up a mountain along secluded terrains that are both scary and amusing.
Scary in the sense that the tiniest miscalculation by the driver would easily plunge a car to its end— amusing because of the magnificence of nature’s engineering that fit every detail into place, propelling the question of how anyone would settle there
But the total population of 3 312 from seven villages of M’buliwa, M’bawa, William, Malonga, Kasonga, Chilasanje I and Chilasanje II defied the odds to call this ‘hard-to-reach’ home, in spite of its challenges.
And because of the long distances between the villages, coupled with bad roads which worsen during the rainy season, something had to be done before the infant population dwindled from preventable diseases.
Notable vaccines that are provided to children are for diseases such as polio, measles, neonatal tetanus, whooping cough and diphtheria.
Secretary of Kasonga Mother Group Hilda Chasowa said her grouping wrote a letter to the District Health Officer (DHO) on April 4th 2016 requesting for the fridge.
She said the need for the storage facility was noted in the course of the 26-member mother group’s activities that included door to door campaigns on civic educating families on the need to immunise their children as well as following up on all children that were either on course for vaccinations or those that absconded.
“Our work involves holding community meetings and conducting door to door campaigns to sensitise families about the importance of immunisations. We also check health passports for every child to ensure they are on course regarding their vaccines.
“We also encourage men’s participation in ensuring that their babies receive required vaccines because our culture relegates such responsibilities to women,” said Chasowa.
She said at least 370 under five children were immunised in 2015. And by 2018, the figure rose from 755 to the current 874.
Chasowa added that men’s participation has risen from three to 10 percent
Group chairperson Elise Khoza said before the fridge, immunisations were scheduled for particular days of the week which made it impossible for all villages to attend and vaccinate their children.
“Some had to walk several kilometres to make it to the clinic days and because of other commitments, many skipped and following up on them became impossible because of lack of tracking mechanisms. But now, the fried enables stocking up of vaccines to allow daily vaccines to suit any schedule,” said Khoza.
According to Khoza, health surveillance assistants also carried a few vaccines just to cater for a particular day or hours to avoid overexposing the remnants which have a short life span.
She observes that the same challenges faced by mothers are faced by Kasonga Group members and health surveillance assistants in terms of mobility to reach out to all villages within their catchment area.
To reach out to all intend beneficiaries, Khoza said the group owns two bicycles they use for travel.
The chairperson observed that rainy season pose even greater challenges, but her determined group never slows down- wears plastics to shield from the rain to reach out to the villagers.
“Apart from follow-up visits we conduct in homes, we track pregnant women to encourage them to deliver at a health facility. And because of the mobility challenges, those near their due dates are told to move to the facility to avoid last minute delays,” she said.
She added that most of the families cannot afford to hire motorcycles to get to health facilities, hence, the need for early travel to avert calamities.
Charles Linje, one of the three health surveillance assistants travels six and half kilometres to the health post every day and sometimes cannot go, especially when it rains.
He said one of them lives nearby to ensure availability of vaccine services, adding that the work required at least six for effectiveness.
“At least the work has been minimized with the fridge. Before it came, we failed to immunize all children because of a work load and this put people off. Covering all babies from zero up to two years is a lot of work when done in one day. But with daily dosages, we have eased on the work without creating pressure for recipients, too,” he said.
The mother group’s interaction does not end with their advocacy work on immunizations.
Chasowa the secretary said they opened a bank account for business with a revolving fund.
Mhen executive director George Jobe said the women received a basic training to know their roles as mother care groups, which include information on immunisation.
He said there are also two mothers groups in Karonga District, one in Mzimba District, two in Kasungu District, tow in Dowa District, two in Neno District and two