By Cullen Browder, WRAL presenter/reporterFor nearly two years, WRAL Investigates has been covering the mental…
It is a sunny Thursday morning and Mamie Munthali, 46, is on her way to administer the polio vaccine in the village of Kamanda, 26 km from Enukweni Health Center in Mzimba, northern Malawi.
During the visit, the Senior Health Surveillance Assistant (HSA) and her colleague Van Ng’ambi take off their shoes to cross the Liwazi River where half of a 30m bridge has collapsed. Just then, a dozen women with saddled babies on their backs appear, walking dangerously through the running water paved by a lush strip of reeds.
When the group heard volunteers announcing the dates for an emergency polio vaccination campaign in their community, they quickly regrouped and left early in the morning for the “usual place” in Katokole village, across the river, where their children receive routine vaccinations once a month. .
The mothers had walked more than 15 km to make sure their children were vaccinated against polio, but they no longer had to walk.
Mamie and Van vaccinated the children by the river to shorten the long walks caused by the bridge that collapsed in 2008. This made settlements on the slopes of the Kamanda hills difficult to access.
“I’ve been HSA for 26 years and nothing makes me happier than helping to end preventable disease. Bringing vaccines to those who need them increases uptake,” says Mamie as she works.
For the 46-year-old mother of two, community outreach evokes memories of 1992, when Malawi last recorded a case of type 1 wild polio. She remembers teams of community health workers vaccinating children on every farm as part of a national polio elimination programme. . This inspired her to become an HSA.
Now she finds herself on the road after the first case of wild polio was confirmed in Malawi in 30 years. Like her predecessors in the early 1990s, she went door to door, vaccinating children to prevent the spread of poliomyelitis. A disease transmitted by eating food contaminated by the feces of an infected person.
“Since my motorbike was stolen, I have been walking long distances to vaccinate children at risk of poliovirus. I know we can defeat the virus if we vaccinate all children and we have already done this. We must do this to save a generation and assure the nation that vaccines work,” says the HSA official responsible for six teams deployed from Enukweni Health Center to vaccinate 2,360 children in four days.
By day two, they had vaccinated 1,800 people.
“We have come through thick and thin, over hills and valleys, through villages and across rivers because every child deserves a good start in life,” she says.
Moyo finds it exciting that when the women of Kamanda heard about the polio vaccination campaign, they came quickly as she was ready to go to them.
She is one of 13,500 health workers trained with support from UNICEF and the World Health Organization to vaccinate 2.9 million children from March to June 2022. UNICEF has installed 170 new refrigerators in vaccines, repaired defective ones and distributed vaccine carriers to health facilities in all districts. It also purchased and distributed 6.8 doses of polio vaccine to all 865 health facilities in the country.
This is the first phase of a regional campaign to vaccinate 9.4 million children in Malawi, Zambia, Mozambique and Tanzania. Three more rounds will follow to protect children at risk of polio infection following the confirmation of the first polio case in Africa since 2016.
UNICEF Representative in Malawi Rudolf Schwenk says while it is sad that Malawi has detected the first case in three decades, the commitment of the Government of Malawi and its partners in preparation to vaccinate all children assures him that the country can maintain its polio-free status. .
During the launch of the polio vaccination campaign at Chileka School in Lilongwe on March 20, 2022, he said, “We know it is doable because we have done it in the past. We also know that the only way to do this is to vaccinate every child in every household. Even one child with polio is one too many, so we can’t stop until we end this disease for good.
“No child should suffer for life from a preventable disease. Our common responsibility is that something as cheap, safe, effective and easy to administer as a vaccine – which has already saved hundreds of thousands of children around the world – reaches those most at risk in Malawi.”
In addition to purchasing and distributing polio vaccine doses to all 865 health facilities in the country, UNICEF trained religious and traditional leaders to mobilize their communities for increased use of oral injections.
Minister of Health Khumbize Kandodo Chiponda is optimistic that Malawi, with the support of partners such as UNICEF, will maintain wide coverage of life-saving vaccines above 80% to contain vaccine-preventable diseases, including wild poliomyelitis.
“The high level political support and leadership of the government has inspired the nation, the global community as well as national partners to act in unison and stop the spread of polio. I am very optimistic about this national campaign in because of the level of commitment and organization that I have seen,” she said.
The community forays have enthused the rural majority who endure long walks to get their children vaccinated as health facilities remain few and far between.
Resita Beaston, 29, had her three-month-old baby, Vista, vaccinated near the Liwazi River in Mzimba North to split the difference.
“Since the bridge collapsed in 2018, we have struggled to get our children vaccinated. Normally we have to walk about 20 km from our homes in Kamanda to get our children vaccinated in Katokole village on the other side by the river, where there is an outdoor clinic for children under five, takes place once a month.
“Bringing vaccines close to home will help protect our children against polio for life. It is a pleasure and we thank the community health workers for their dedication,” says Resita.
This article was first published by UNICEFMalawi April 6, 2022.