Zambia is one of the poorest countries in the world. One in ten children will not survive infancy, and one in five children will die before they reach their fifth birthday. Today, heath care projects sponsored by Canada-based CARE International are trying to improve conditions in three of the country’s regions. From Lusaka, Zambia, reporter Sanday Chongo Kabange looks at how the projects are helping children under the age of five survive preventable diseases.
“Moyo wa Bana” is a Zambian word meaning “Health of Children.” It’s also the name of the project designed to treat children, many of whom who are at risk of dying before they reach their fifth birthday. The high death rate is often attributed to a lack of special medical services for young children, especially in rural communities.
Nearly 75 percent of children’s deaths are due to preventable diseases such as malaria, diarrhea and pneumonia.
Under the “Moyo wa Bana” project, CARE Zambia aims to reduce the rates of these diseases in young children in the towns of Lusaka, Ndola, and Kasama. The project also provides health advice through a network of trained volunteers.
The organization distributes chlorine and bed nets treated with insectides to neighborhood health committees, which sell them at a reduced price to local households.
The free mobile station run by CARE’s “Moyo wa Bana” program is funded in part by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA).
CARE trained volunteers operate mobile clinics that move from one location to another offering basic child care services. CARE trains the volunteers in basic health care techniques like weighing, data entry and processing.
Children are weighed in order for volunteers to determine whether the child can be referred to a doctor or not. If the child’s weight is too low, the child is sent to a doctor.
These volunteers only administer simple medication such as anti-malaria tablets, while other forms of medication are offered by doctors.
The volunteers are able to identify other childhood diseases like measles and refer serious cases to district health centers or referral hospitals. Among the most serious is malaria.
The volunteers also offer free insecticide-treated bed nets.
In addition, CARE Zambia provides malaria kits and other anti-malaria materials such as booklets to communities to help reduce prevalence of the disease in their communities.
It is estimated that over 1000 children have benefited from the project since it began in 1998.
Mark Vander Vort is country director of CARE Zambia.
He said, “One of the goals of “Moyo wa Bana” project is to take the growth monitoring of under five children to the communities as opposed to asking mothers and fathers to sometimes walk considerable distances to nearest clinics, where they may experience long queues when the child is healthy. ”
Charity Phiri is a health worker employed by the Zambian government at Kalingalinga Clinic in Lusaka. She explains that since the program began in 1998, malaria rates have dropped from 41 percent to 28 percent in the Lusaka, Ndola and Kasama regions.
Phiri said cases of diarrhea have also dropped by half and that only three percent of children suffer from pneumonia, compared to 12 percent when the project started.
She added that the number of families using insecticide treated bed nets has doubled, protecting children from mosquito-borne malaria.
“There has been a tremendous reduction in malaria and diarrhea cases," she said. "For example, we have recorded a reduction in malaria cases among pregnant mothers as well as children, which I think should be attributed to the correct use of insecticide treatment mosquito nets, which are being distributed by CARE Zambia and other non-governmental organizations. At household level, the malaria cases have also been reduced by “Indoor Residual Spraying” -- especially in densely populated townships like Ng’ombe and Garden compounds (in Lusaka). The latest Zambian health survey has shown that diarrhea cases have reduced by half (In Ng’ombe and Garden compounds).”
The program works in close collaboration with the Zambian government and district health teams. It takes a three-pronged approach, which includes reaching people at the clinic, community and household level.
Mwansa Chileshe, a CARE-trained volunteer at Chawama Community Health Centre, has been involved with the “Moyo wa Bana” project since 2003.
He said many parents now understand the importance of early childhood health care.
“We used to see malaria going up and up every year, but now the level is going down," he said. "The community is reacting. If they see a child is sick, they take them to the clinic. Mothers know the importance of the under-five registration cards, to monitor their babies’ weight and vaccinations.”
So far, the “Moyo wa Bana” project is receiving a positive response from the public. Even better, many Zambian youths are now volunteering to become one of the hundreds of CARE-trained child health promoters working to save the lives of children in their own communities.