Meet Lucy Nyirenda, 25, from Traditional Authority (T/A) M’bwana in Nkhatabay. For three years, the vicious cycle kept on creeping around her area. Her only source of healthcare needs, Bula Health Center, was at the center of the misery, she and other women were experiencing. Nyirenda felt confined but helpless.
“Challenges in accessing maternal health services at the facility started in 2014 after the arrival of a young nurse and midwife technician,” she recounts.
Nyirenda narrates how the health worker’s negligence in discharging her responsibilities confined pregnant women to the jaws of death.
“Most pregnant women were denied access to antenatal care. Some were forced to deliver on their own at the facility in the absence of a medical personnel,” she narrates.
Alex Chiumia from Group Village Headman (GVH) Wakhalika in the area, corroborates the story.
Chiumia cites a case of a pregnant woman who was turned back by the nurse in question after going to access delivery care at the facility with no valid reason.
“In March 2017, a pregnant woman went to Bula Health Center for delivery. She was releasing some fluids and for three days she was not assisted,” Chiumia, a member of Kwacha Radio Listening Club narrates.
The woman was then referred to Mzuzu Central Hospital which is 48 kilometers away from the facility.
“She was told to use her own transportation as the facility has no ambulance.”
Things turned sour when the nurse threw the woman out of the maternity in order to go out for shopping in Mzuzu.
“As the woman was waiting for her husband to make transport arrangements to Mzuzu Central Hospital, the nurse took the woman’s belongings and threw her out of the maternity claiming that she should not be seen at the facility.”
Chiumia says the woman left but after walking for three hundred metres, she delivered on the way.
“It was a difficult situation but lucky enough another nurse who was off duty came to the rescue of the woman and helped her to deliver.”
For communities around Bia Health Post in the same area of Traditional Authority Mbwana things were not different either.
For a long time communities around the facility had been facing a problem of negligence by the Health Surveillance Assistant (HSA) in the area.
Anne Nyirenda from Mwandenga village in the area says the HSA used to provide treatment to mostly women who he had sexual affairs with.
“He was forcing women to be in a love affair with him in exchange of his attention as HSA. Pregnant women were the most affected by the HSA’s behavior,” she explains.
Turning the tables
In 2016, Youth Net and Counselling (YONECO) with funding from United Nations Childrens Fund (UNICEF) started implementing a project called Every Woman Every Child (EWEC) Social Accountability in Nkhatabay. The development saw the establishment of Kwacha Radio Listeners Club together with other clubs.
Kwacha Radio Listeners Club was empowered to amplify community voices on issues of reproductive, maternal, newborn, child and adolescent health (RMNCAH).
Alex Chiumia together with other club members and the community took this as an opportunity to deal with the challenges and in no time they organized a meeting with Health Advisory Committee (HAC) members.
“We brought the problem to the attention of HAC and the nurse was confronted. Since then the club has not received any other cases of negligence by medical staff at Bula Health Center,” he says.
Chiumia says pregnant women are now receiving health care without any challenges and that so far there have been no cases of women delivering at home or on their way to the hospital.
Similarly, the situation at Bia Health Post changed after the intervention of Honga Radio Listeners Club-which mobilized Chiefs and the community to move in to demand accountability from the community health worker.
“Honga Radio Listening Club in set up a meeting between chiefs and the HSA to iron out the issues. Since then pregnant women are getting healthcare without the challenges as before.”
The community also established a Village Health Committee (VHC) following the issues which they all agreed were affecting the promotion reproductive, maternal, newborn, child and adolescent health in their area.
Surely, both Lucy and Anne Nyirenda, together with women living around Bula and Bia health facilities, can now afford a smile as the vicious cycle which caged them for years had long gone.