LILONGWAY, Malawi — Having inky fingers isn’t often something to celebrate. For Malawi children, however, showing off hands with ink stains is a sign of healthcare innovation.
After a June campaign to promote children’s healthcare in Malawi, almost eight million children have received vaccinations to combat against measles and rubella. The National Integrated Measles-Rubella vaccination campaign, with the help of vaccine alliance Gavi, has mobilized thousands of volunteers and locals to target children aged between nine months and fourteen years, providing vaccinations and supplements to improve the current system of healthcare in Malawi.
Each child with inky fingers marks one that has received the life-changing vaccines, providing them the potential to live a fuller, healthier life. Gavi’s outreach is a hopeful step forward for global healthcare, demonstrating how education and action can save lives.
Healthcare in Malawi reflects the economic and social status of its people. Three-quarters of Malawians live below the international poverty line, surviving on less than $1.25 per day. Because of endemic poverty and many threats to overall well-being, the average life expectancy is only 47 years.
Malawi’s government offers citizens a national healthcare service, but due to limited resources, technology and doctors, most local and rural hospitals struggle to provide beyond very basic facilities. Common ailments in Malawi besides measles and rubella include HIV/AIDS, malaria, and malnutrition.
In many impoverished countries, measles is a leading cause of death among children. These countries, like the healthcare in Malawi, don’t have the safe and effective vaccine available to treat it. While modern countries may not consider measles as a major threat, it can wreak havoc in a rural environment with limited healthcare facilities.
Rubella, while usually mild, is deadly during pregnancy because it leads to congenital rubella syndrome. This syndrome results in symptoms such as cloudy corneas or white appearance to the pupils, deafness, developmental delay, low birth weight, intellectual disability and seizures. While cases of congenital rubella have generally decreased thanks to the rubella vaccine, pregnant mothers who lack access to it, like those in Malawi, put their children at risk.
Healthcare in Malawi has faced measles and rubella outbreaks in recent years, making the Gavi vaccination campaign even more important. In 2010, Malawi experienced its most recent measles outbreak, with over 9,000 reported cases overwhelming local health centers beyond their capacities. In 2014 alone, cases of rubella increased by over 1000 percent.
Even with past efforts to increase the availability of measles and rubella vaccinations from global organizations such as Medecins Sans Frontieres, also known as Doctors Without Borders, healthcare in Malawi still lacks accessibility and capability.
In total, Gavi and the Malawi government have set up 11,000 vaccination sites at health facilities and schools across the country in June 2017. Following the campaign, Malawi’s ministry of health will introduce the vaccine into their national immunization program to make sure future generations receive protection.
The momentum from vaccinating millions of Malawi children is an encouraging sign not only for Malawi, but other poverty-stricken healthcare systems. Other countries in southern Africa, like Mozambique, South Africa, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe could all benefit from expanded resources for measles and rubella patients. Perhaps children beyond Malawi’s borders will start sporting inky fingers to rejoice in a higher quality future.
With awareness and social mobilization, a movement can turn one of poverty’s deadly diseases into a figment of history.
– Allie Knofczynski