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A crisis in urgent need of attention

Following the unprecedented devastation and economic upheaval that the coronavirus brought across nations, the virus is progressively fading, or so it might appear. However, healthcare – particularly for the ultra-poor people in displacement, refugees and other people at the margins – will always top the list of global priorities. It is no secret that the poor and the displaced rank among the groups that are hardest hit by the lack of or insufficient access to healthcare. While access to quality healthcare is one of the universal human rights, this area faces myriads of downsides with under-funding proving a key challenge.

In Africa, the situation is traumatizing because – according to the United Nations (UN) – the majority of Africans, mostly the poor and those in the middle-income bracket, rely on under-funded public health facilities. Only a small minority has access to well-funded, quality private health care. Refugees in Dzaleka and Malawians around the refugee camp in Dowa, Central Malawi, share a similar fate. Refugees, for example, were at high risk with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reporting that in 2020 amidst movement restrictions and the fear of getting infected, refugees’ access to health facilities was significantly reduced. Malaria topped the list of diseases that wreaked havoc.

Dzaleka Refugee Camp, home to over 50,000 people from various countries, is served by Dzaleka Health Centre, a small clinic that caters for a combined total of 80,000 people including Malawians from surrounding villages.

And the number keeps increasing.

Due to the sheer overwhelming numbers of people that the health centre accommodates, the small hospital constantly faces acute shortages of essential drugs. At one point, the health centre ran out of anesthetics, causing alarm, especially in the maternity section where the drug is critical.

Such challenges have often resulted in the health centre persistently calling for help from partners and organizations. When the first of such calls came in 2020, and coincidentally at the peak of the pandemic, There is Hope reached out to the International Association for Refugees (IAFR) and Health Partners International of Canada (HPIC) for assistance. HPIC through IAFR responded promptly and sent in a donation of various essential medications worth over 81,000 Canadian Dollars (approximately USD65, 000). This was followed by another consignment which we donated to the health centre in mid-2021.

The donations never ended there. This year, in response to another SOS alert, HPIC and IAFR supported us with the third consignment of critical drugs which we distributed to the small hospital. The drugs are worth 120,000 Canadian Dollars (approximately USD96, 000). Similar to the previous two donations, this consignment emerged at an opportune time when the health centre was experiencing a rapid drop in its stock of essential drugs, which was threatening the lives of the multitude of Malawians and refugees who rely heavily on the hospital. Henry Lali, the Clinical Officer in Charge of Dzaleka Health Centre called it a “crisis in urgent need of attention”.

“As of now, we are rapidly running short of essential medicines and it is that period of the year when respiratory conditions are rampant. We are in urgent need of antibiotics, and painkillers, among others,” he said when he received the donation on behalf of the Ministry of Health.

The UNHCR admits that funding for refugees in Malawi (and across the world) continues to decline partly due to the protracted situation of refugees in the country. This is gradually putting a dent in the healthcare sector for the refugee community. Although the UNHCR in close collaboration with the Malawi Government is working tirelessly to explore lasting solutions, their efforts can only become successful when partners and donors like IAFR and HPIC join in. As Rehema Miiro, the Senior Protection Officer for UNHCR Malawi puts it, to efficiently respond to the refugee situation, there needs to be a joint effort at all levels.

“It’s always good to have donors who are willing to come in to support every effort in order to ensure that refugees have basic needs, some of those needs being healthcare-related,” she explained.

The importance of equal access to healthcare among all and most specifically the population at the margins of society cannot be overstated. It is only through a concerted partnership between different players that the Ministry of Health and the UNHCR can ably provide sufficient medical supplies to the refugees and host communities in Dzaleka.

“The Malawi Government through the Ministry of Health provides support to the health centre but this is not sufficient,” observed Hilda Kausiwa, the Senior Administrative and Operations Manager in the Department of Refugees under the Ministry of Homeland Security. “This is why we appreciate any additional support that we receive from our donors and partners,” she added.

HPIC and IAFR understand this and it is through their support that There is Hope has been able to rush to the rescue of Dzaleka Health Centre in times of dire need.