Malnutrition, Maternal and Neonatal Deaths, Thorny Issues After Cyclone Freddy
Mary Mpemba is a mother of six children. She hails from Chidothi village in the area of Traditional Authority Mulumbe in Zomba.
The woman is one of the people that were severely hit by cyclone Freddy in the southern part of Malawi early March this year. Her house was razed down completely.
She is now living in a grass thatched shelter while waiting to construct a better house from the financial support she received from development partners.
“My house was demolished, food and other household items and rice plants washed away. We do-not have food, we now depend on piece works to survive, we usually have one meal a day,” said Mpemba complaining that her family is starving.
She agrees that the current situation has exposed some of her children to risks of malnutrition, calling on government, organizations and well-wishers to support her with a business start-up capital to sustain her family.
Senior Health Surveillance Assistant in the area, Fresco Masuku tells us that children and lactating mothers are facing malnutrition due to the effects of cyclone Freddy.
“We have so far recorded over 40 cases of malnutrition among children of which 20 were moderate and five severe cases. Some lactating mothers were also found to be malnourished due to shortage of food. We also had issues of pregnant mothers failing to access care because roads were cut off,” said Masuku.
Away from Zomba, in Nsanje, health authorities said the cyclone affected the district negatively. For instance, in March, the district recorded 1, 472 cases of malnutrition, two maternal deaths and 66 neonatal deaths.
“Yes, we registered many malnutrition cases after the cyclone considering that most people lost their food stuffs and crops washed away. We also had some maternal and neonatal deaths,” said the Nsanje Director of Health and Social Services, Dr Gilbert Chapweteka.
It is estimated that the cyclone affected over 202, 000 hectares of crops of which 120, 416 were washed away and 81, 679 submerged belonging to 467, 958 farming households thereby exposing communities to hunger and nutrition hiccups.
Recently, UNICEF estimated that 3.8 million people in 21 districts in Malawi are facing acute food insecurity.
And in addition to the impact of cyclone Freddy, the current situation has put 574, 000 under five children and 228, 000 pregnant and lactating mothers at the risk of malnutrition.
This comes when maternal deaths in Malawi are hanging at 439 per 100, 000 meaning that 2, 634 women die due to pregnancy related complications.
An official from the department of reproductive health in the ministry of health, Sophie Chimwenje Nepiyala told us in the recent past that the government is striving to reduce maternal deaths to 110 per 100, 000 by 2030 in line with Sustainable Development Goal 3 which aspires to ensure health and wellbeing for all.
“97 percent of pregnant women in Malawi deliver at hospitals but delays to visit the facilities because of cultural beliefs among others are fueling the problem. Front line health workers, community health surveillance assistants have a big role to play in sensitizing pregnant mothers on dangers of unnecessary delays to visit health facilities,” said Nepiyala.
Health and Rights Education Program (HREP) Executive Director Maziko Matemba says Malawi should have better planning strategies on disaster preparedness to avoid malnutrition and maternal deaths in the country.
“Issues of food and nutrition are critical. What is happening now is that people are grappling with malnutrition after being hit by cyclone Freddy, now having a direct bearing on maternal health.
“Maternal health and nutrition go hand in hand, for a mother cannot deliver a healthier baby when she is malnourished,” said Matemba.
He added that it is worrisome that teen pregnancies, teen school dropout, increased dependents and orphans continue to plague Malawi.
The HREP executive director further stated that with the rising population, the country needs to invest more in reproductive and maternal and newborn health.
"Malawi's high fertility rate is a contributor to rapid population growth. High rates of unplanned and missed pregnancies are being recorded especially among the youths.
“In addition, more than one quarter of married women of reproductive age have unmet need for family planning that could help them better time and space their pregnancies," said Matemba, adding that the ideal budget towards sexual reproductive health is K12.7 billion.
He added that the government needs to introduce and support innovative health financing strategies as recommended in Malawi Health Financing strategy 2023-2030 with more domestic resource mobilization for sustainability.
“Furthermore, Government policy needs to incorporate the increased engagement of the private sector and non-state actors which includes CSOs and Youth for better alignment and mobilization of health sector resources and utilization,” said Matemba.
Obviously, urgent measures should be put in place to curb malnutrition and maternal health challenges in the country.