By Meclina Chirwa
While the country still strives to promote safe motherhood initiatives, the status quo on the ground at some health facilities clearly shows there is need for more effort to protect pregnant mothers and the unborn child.
It is an open secret that maternal mortality is a serious problem in the country with 439 deaths per 100 thousand live births primarily due to limited access to skilled maternal health care. This is despite Malawi establishing maternity waiting homes to improve access to skilled labor.
Our visit to Chikwewu Health Centre in Machinga revealed some of the pains and shame that expectant mothers face as they prepare to bring God’s gift into the world.
The women that spoke to Timveni claim they sleep in a dilapidated kitchen serving as a waiting shelter while there is a good one just nearby which authorities claim is reserved for critical patients.
The women also accuse the facility’s security guards of demanding sex from women who want to access water at the facility’s water tap.
In an interview with Timveni , one of the pregnant women, 28 year old Ethel Rahim, from Mtsitsi village in the area, said the women were chased from the new waiting shelter for unconvincing reasons.
Rahim also validated claims that security guards demand sex from pregnant women for them to access water during the day.
She said it is unfortunate that some desperate pregnant women and guardians bow down to the guard’s request just to access water.
Rahim said the security guard opens the water tap at around 6 am and locks it up at around 6 in the evening.
However, the guard at the facility, Master Sam, denied the accusations saying that is just blackmail.
Ironically, the water source at the facility was installed by a non-governmental organization Water Aid Malawi to ease water problems at the facility.
Water problems were a serious problem at the facility as service delivery had been compromised for 5 years before WASH came in.
This is also happening at a time when stakeholders in the water, sanitation and hygiene sector are lobbying for WASH package in the country’s health facilities.
The WASH package is being advocated for because currently more than half of Malawi’s health facilities lack sufficient WASH provision for staff and patients.
Despite all these interventions that brought some joy at Chikwewu Health Centre, the joy has turned to tears following the abuse the women are facing.
At the same time the abuse is happening at a time the Ministry of Health introduced the office of Hospital Ombudsman to handle cases of abuse at health facilities.
A 2021 global progress report on Water, Sanitation and Hygiene in healthcare facilities has shown that Twenty-Four percent of the facilities in Malawi are functioning without water supply while Thirty-Two percent do not have hand hygiene facilities.