Malawi is in the midst of a public health crisis. HIV/AIDS is an epidemic in Malawi, with over 10% of the adult population infected. Largely as a result of this crisis there are over 1 million orphans in Malawi. The people of Malawi are also at extremely high risk of Malaria, with roughly 6 million cases every year. Two other major issues facing the people of Malawi are malnutrition and lack of sanitation. Malnutrition is the leading cause of preventable childhood death throughout the world, and lack of proper sanitation contributes to nearly 700,000 child deaths in the developing world every year. In addition, lack of proper sanitation facilities can prevent students from attending school, impose a burden on women, and diminish overall productivity and quality of life. While all of these problems seem overwhelming, to make matters worse, there are fewer than 600 doctors in the entire country, serving a population of nearly 18 million. This corresponds to just .03 physicians for every 1,000 people, a rate almost 100 times lower than in the United States. Even when we include the entire health care workforce, there is still a tremendous shortage of trained medical personnel in Malawi. Malawi has 0.12 healthcare workers for every 1,000 people, while nearby Kenya has roughly 10 times as many skilled professionals as Malawi. Villages in Partnership is determined to step into this crisis and help solve it.
Health care has been one of VIP’s core areas of focus since our inception. Our very first project in the Sakata region was rebuilding the Kalupe health center, where we now hold weekly clinics. Since then we have supported activities related to promoting health and nutrition in the communities served by VIP. One major concentration is improving the health of mothers and children under 5. In pursuit of that goal, VIP has partnered with Vitamin Angels, a non-profit that provides lifesaving vitamins to mothers and children under five at risk of malnutrition.
Improving WASH (Water, sanitation and hygiene) services throughout our catchment area is another priority for VIP. In 2016 we conducted WASH training, in collaboration with the departments of health and agriculture, in 13 of our 26 partner villages. Nearly a thousand community members participated in this training and have adopted best health and hygiene practices in their homes and villages. Despite the success of our WASH and nutrition programs, emergency care is still necessary. Every year for the past 7 years, VIP has sent an American medical team to Malawi to operate clinics and to make home visits to the most vulnerable and sick patients. The May 2017 team was our largest yet, with 26 doctors, nurses and nursing students treating over 5000 patients! But we know that our villagers require, and have the right to, excellent medical care for the majority of the year when our medical team is not in Malawi. To that end we have paid for two medical clinicians to receive advanced training at Malamulo College, with the agreement that they would then serve in government clinics near our catchment area so that the villagers we partner with can have continual access to expert medical care.
Although we have made tremendous progress, the leaders of our Health Initiative, Liz Heinzel-Nelson, Lucy Goeke, Adriane Neumeister and Eileen Gradwell know that there is still much to be done. They traveled to Malawi in March, in part to prepare for the May medical team that they would lead, but also to create new initiatives, which would continue to raise the standard of medical care in our partner villages. One of these new initiatives is to establish care groups within the VIP catchment area, focusing on maternal and early childhood health, under the direction of a new project officer. Our Care Groups consist of 10-15 volunteer, community-based health educators who regularly meet together with VIP project staff for training and supervision. Each of these volunteers then go out at least monthly to do health promotion with a small cohort of mothers of young children. Each volunteer is responsible for regularly visiting 10-15 of her neighbors, sharing what she has learned and facilitating behavior change at the household level. The Care Group model embodies one of VIP’s core principles of partnering with the people of Malawi to bring them the tools so that they can lift their communities out of poverty. The Care Group Model is being established under direction of newly hired Health and nutrition Project Officer Madalitso Chikani. Madalitso will be a key driver of health and nutrition projects throughout our Catchment area.
Liz, Lucy, Adriane and Eileen also visited the Khanda clinic, built in collaboration between the village of Pahua and the central government, but never finished. VIP will be working with the villagers to make repairs and improvements to the building so that it can be used for a new weekly health clinic to complement and expand the reach and capacity of our existing clinic at Kalupe health center. Our health leadership team also attended local meetings, so that they could hear about the issues, successes and challenges that the villagers faced first hand. At the end of one of these meetings the local chief brought forward a young girl named Juliette Thom. Juliette is 16 years old and was born with club feet, which made walking difficult and extremely painful. Our team learned that Juliette’s mother had to carry Juliette on her back several miles to and from school, otherwise Juliette wouldn’t be able to get there. Our team of nurses also diagnosed Juliette with an extreme case of scoliosis. The Chief asked if there was anything that our team could do to help her. The next day our team returned with a wheelchair that they had brought over with them and gave it to Juliette. Allowing her to move about on her own, and freeing her mother from the need to carry her everywhere.
We at VIP believe that Healthcare is a human right, and we will continue to expand and improve our medical programs in Malawi until every person in our partner villages has access to affordable, quality healthcare!