Malawi’s Cyclone Freddy Disrupts Lives of Women and Children but Not Their Health Care

Published on May 31, 2023

Zainab Chisenga/MOMENTUM Tiyeni

by Zainab Chisenga, Knowledge Management & Communications Manager, Malawi MOMENTUM Tiyeni Project

Twenty-year-old Thokozani Tomasi sought refuge from Cyclone Freddy on March 15 at Nsakanyama Catholic church camp in Mangochi, Malawi. She comes from Akili Village in Traditional Authority Nankumba four kilometers away, and walked to the camp with her mother and four other relatives. Freddy came at a very difficult time in Thokozani’s life. She is in her last trimester of pregnancy, due to deliver by the end of May. She lost everything she had for the baby as well as her health passport – containing her medical history – when the rains brought her house down and washed away the property. Thokozani and her family were forced to join 56 other families at the camp where she remains today.

Cyclone Freddy devastated Malawi from 13 to 16 March and killed over 600 people, displaced another 650,000, and left some 500 people still missing.

For Thokozani, one of the multiple needs she had upon arrival at the camp was medical attention. But Thokozani and the two other pregnant women received only basic services offered by the community health worker at the camp.

Thokozani Tomasi stands in front of her temporary home at Nsakanyama camp in Mangochi, Malawi. Credit: Zainab Chisenga

As part of its response to Cyclone Freddy, the MOMENTUM Tiyeni project is supporting the Ministry of Health to conduct Integrated Family Health Outreach Clinics (IFHOCs) targeting evacuation camps in five districts affected by the cyclone: Machinga, Mangochi, Mulanje, Zomba, and Chikwawa. Through the IFHOCs, women, children, adolescents, youth, and others can access outpatient general clinical services as well as antenatal services, family planning, sexual and reproductive health services, growth monitoring, and integrated management of childhood illnesses.

Thokozani is among 31 pregnant women who have received antenatal services through IFHOC at their camps at Nsakanyama, Mbidi, Grain Bank, and Namindolo in Mangochi, Zomba, Ckikwawa, and Mulanje respectively.

Another woman who was driven from her home by the cyclone is 22-year-old Esimie Chipwele. Esimie arrived at Mbidi camp in Zomba on 14 March 2023. Her nearest health center is a private facility that she cannot afford given her current circumstances. The public facility is almost 16 kilometers from the camp and Esimie could not afford the trip there for her 19-month-old son, Peace.

Thanks to the IFHOC that MOMENTUM conducted at her camp, her son was assessed for nutritional needs, obtained growth monitoring, and received medical treatment through the integrated management of newborn and child illness component of the IFHOC services.

Esimie Chipwele getting her son, Peace Chilala, assessed on nutrition at Mdidi Evacuation Camp in Zomba, Malawi. Credit: Zainab Chisenga

According to Namkumba Community Health Surveillance Assistant Frank Kasamba, there is a strong need for health services at the camps. He explained that while he visits the camps weekly, he does not offer the comprehensive services that the IFHOC clinics are offering. He stated that IFHOCs complement his services and ease the burden of travel on the residents of the camp.

“The village clinics I run at the camp are mostly limited to providing sexual and reproductive health care, immunizations, diarrhea management, and cholera awareness. I am getting more demand for other services but I must refer them to the health center about five kilometers away from the camp. These IFHOCs bring family planning [services], antenatal care, growth monitoring, and nutrition support and related dietary supplements as well as clinic services. It makes my work easy because I know my people are cared for right here,” explained Kasamba.

MOMENTUM is supporting the government of Malawi in health service provision to promote maternal health, child health, reproductive health, and nutrition services. The interventions also target COVID-19 vaccines for older people and public health emergency response.

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