Taking reproductive health closer to flood survivors

The incessant rains experienced between March 5 and 10 this year in Chikwawa left scores of people in destitution.

Statistics obtained from the Department of Disaster Management Affairs (Dodma) indicate that the floods hit almost one million people in Malawi, killing 56 and injuring 577 in the process.

The situation forced authorities to open evacuation camps in different areas where assorted relief items have since been distributed.

Life in a camp is not normal as communities gather at one place; rules are broken at times and some life-threatening conditions emerge.

Most often it is not only the relief food and non-food items that are required for the displaced communities. They also need several interventions, including health-related services.

To this effect, Centre for Alternatives for Victimized Women and Children (Cavwoc) thinks issues of Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) are critical to people displaced by floods now living in camps.

So far, Chikwawa has 34 camps setup in response to the catastrophe.

As a result, there are fears of unplanned pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) among many other life-threatening health conditions to the disaster affected people living in camps.

To alleviate that, Cavwoc is implementing Get Up, Speak Out (Guso) Project aimed at reaching out to flood survivors in camps with SRHR messages in the district.

Through the project, the organisation wants to prevent incidences of unprotected sex, unplanned pregnancies and the spread of STIs.

Cavwoc’s projects coordinator in Chikwawa, Judith Chisi Pangani says due to the disasters, some communities currently seeking shelter in camps are traumatised and, as a result, their health-seeking behaviours are compromised.

“We are taking SRH services closer to the people and we are continuing with the campaigns. We want the affected people to maintain their health-seeking behaviours,” she says.

Pangani notes that people in the camps may choose not to continue with the health-seeking behaviour which might cripple health service delivery in the district.

“We encourage those on anti-retroviral therapy [ART] to continue taking the medication. We also want to ensure the youth continue patronising youth friendly health services [YFHS],” she says.

A flood survivor from Augusto Village in Traditional Authority Maseya, Mercy Friday, hails the campaign, saying many people are resorting to safer practices.

“We have been made to understand that as long as we are here, we also need to value our life by demanding the right to health services.

“Issues of protection have also been highlighted which will enable us do what is necessary to safeguard our lives,” she says.

Paulo Ndamera from Ngwira Village also hails Cavwoc for bringing the awareness on various health-related issues to the camp’s doorstep.

“We now know where to get SRHR services,” he says.

Chikwawa District Hospital nursing officer Lusayo Malanga says it is imperative to bring SRHR messages to the flood survivors because being in a camp implies that their livelihoods are disrupted.

“Our hospital staff will always make sure that they offer the services to the hard-to-reach communities,” he says.

Malanga says the services include family planning and supply of drugs, including ART in camps.

“We want to see people continue with their health-seeking behaviours. We don’t want to see an increase in the number of people contracting diseases such as STIs and having unwanted pregnancies,” he says.

“We have gone to all camps in the district and the response to the messages is quite impressive. It is our hope that nobody will fail to access health services because we are there to offer the same,” Malanga adds.

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