Flora Shadreck from Sila Village in TA Chapananga in Chikwawa has been fighting with her grandmother on whether to take her malnourished child to the traditional healer or to Thambani health facility for medication.

Shadreck says their community is obsessed with cultural beliefs which force them to report malnourished children to traditional healers instead of health facilities.

The communities who include her grandmother argues that the child has been bewitched through kumusempha and kumulephera hence has to take her to traditional healer.

However, Shadreck says she has seen parents losing their children to death due to delays in taking them to health centres and she insists to take her malnourished child to Thambani health centre in Mwanza, the nearest facility in their area.

“I was under pressure from my friends and relatives who forced me to take the child to the traditional healer saying she has been bewitched. But I stood strong among them and took my child to Thambani Health centre. Many shouted and laughed at me but I did not let look back, I was convinced clinicians would help my child live longer”, said Shadreck.

Thambani health centre nutrition focal person Annie John said when Shadreck arrived at the centre with the child for assistance, the child’s oedema was severe with her feet, hands and face swollen.

“It was just fortunate that despite the delay she managed to bring the child here at the facility and soon after her arrival we rolled the child into Out Patient Therapeutic Program (OTP) and after few weeks she started recovering. Of course she delayed as she was in dilemma following the pressure from her grandmother and the communities but thanks to our volunteer who encouraged her to bring the child here”, said John.

John further said most communities in the area are influenced by cultural beliefs and mostly rely on traditional healers for medication such that they have seen some parents bringing their children to the facility with some cuts in their feet and hands signifying their early reporting to traditional healers before seeking medication at the facility.

“Just two months ago, we received a child with some cuts in his feet and hands which were done by traditional healer, but there were no improvement on the children’s health. So, in our area, cultural beliefs are very strong but with different initiatives including the active case finding campaign funded by Unicef, we are able to enlighten the communities through the volunteers”, added John.

Shadreck’s daughter spent 3 months on OTP and 4 months on SFP to fully recover from the condition she experienced. This, on the other hand has denied her to grow crops and have bumper yields as she spent most of farming time at the clinic.

“Though I spent most of the time here, but I appreciate my child has graduated and we are good to go home. Of course we do not have enough food but I will try my best to feed the child as advised by the clinicians that I should be feeding my child six food groups”, said Shadreck.

While Shadreck spent most of her farming time at the clinic, she says she do not get necessary support from her husband in providing diversified food to the family.

She says her husband spend most of his time drinking beer instead of taking care of the family.

“Honestly, I receive little support from my husband. I have to source food, do some piece work for money and buy food for my children yet when my husband finds money all he knows is to drink beer, he cares little for the children”, said Shadreck.

Commenting on the same, community health promoter volunteer Chikumbutso Mulande for GVH Mpeni in TA Govati in Mwaza concurred with Shadreck saying most men do not help their wives in the area in sourcing foods as such very few families manage eating six food groups.

“Most men here do not help their wives in sourcing foods and mostly women source the foods on their own. Mostly men go to Mozambique for piece works and when they are back they just spend the money in drinking joints, little do they consider of their families”, said Mulande.

Mulande, however said the active case finding campaign which aims at preventing and treating acute malnourished among the flood affected population particularly women and children has been key in tracing malnourished children to help them get necessary treatment and recover fully.

He said the community health promoters are key in identifying the cases and sensitizing the communities on the cultural beliefs and promotion of male involvement in sourcing foods so that cases of malnutrition are reduced in the community.

“The health promoters are very key in sensitizing the communities on cultural beliefs since they help HSA’s. We go door by door screening the children and encourage them to take their children to the health centre and not to traditional healers. We also approach men to help their wives in feeding the children diversified food so that they fight malnutrition in their families. Though this is voluntary work but we appreciate the support from Unicef through Story Workshop, it helps us to have more energy in reaching out to the communities”, added Mulande.

In reaction to the issue, Mwanza DHO’s nutritionist Kondwani Chavula said they mostly have challenges in following up the cases from Chikwawa and neighbouring Mozambique since it is not within their jurisdiction but through these campaigns they strengthen coordination with nearest health centres especially in Chikwawa to encourage the parents with malnourished children continue seeking necessary treatment in health centres.

“As you are aware Mwanza borders with Mozambique and Chikwawa so it is not easy to follow upon the cases sometimes. But through these volunteers we are able to encourage them to continue seeking medication at our facilities and bring their children for assistance”, said Chavula.

Chavula further said they have also intensified community sensitization encouraging the communities to always refer their children to health centre and not relying on the traditional healers.

“We are doing community sensitization with Amref and Red cross through drama, meetings and community dialogues to bring more awareness to the communities the need of taking the children to the health facilities. We are also encouraging families to have back yard gardens in their households so that they should be able to source vegetables easily and find money after selling the vegetables”, said Chavula.

Now that her child has fully recovered and she is going back home, Flora Shadreck, says will make sure she has a back yard garden and take a leading role in encouraging other women in her community to take their children to health facilities and not to traditional leaders.

“I am happy that my child is healthier now and am good to go home. I appreciate the support I received from the volunteers and HAS’s here, they really helped me. I want to help my fellow women in my community to learn from me and have their children taken to health centres and not traditional healers”, concluded Shadreck.

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