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In the heart of Traditional Authority Kanduku in Mwanza district, Malawi, the far-reaching impact of the COVID-19 pandemic brought to light the vulnerabilities in essential healthcare services. Licy Chatanga, an active member of the community-led monitoring committee, found herself at the forefront of a transformative initiative implemented under the COVID-19 Response Mechanism by CRECCOM, with funding from the Global Fund through ActionAid International Malawi.

In this rural landscape, the provision of crucial health services, particularly for HIV/AIDS, TB, COVID-19, and malaria, faced significant challenges. There existed a pervasive fear among the population that seeking medical attention would lead to treatments that could prove fatal.

"People living with HIV/AIDS, TB, and those suffering from malaria, along with pregnant women, believed that hospitals held a potential threat to their lives," shared Chatanga, highlighting the depth of the problem.

This pre-existing challenge was exacerbated during the COVID-19 pandemic. Individuals undergoing testing for the virus before receiving their regular medications fueled fear, causing a decline in the number of community members seeking treatment at health facilities.

"Patients stopped going to their respective healthcare facilities, depriving themselves of the much-needed treatment provided by various health providers," explained Chatanga, underlining the consequences of the widespread apprehension. 

Divina Ndala, the secretary for the Community Led Monitoring committee, shared insights into the prevailing myths surrounding COVID-19 during the pandemic. Misconceptions about the virus led to a distorted perception of health workers, with those wearing face masks being avoided due to the mistaken belief that they were carriers of the virus.

Ndala emphasized the need for accurate information dissemination, recounting the revelation that unfolded after engaging in training sessions on Community Led Monitoring under the COVID-19 Response Mechanism project with CRECCOM.

Post-training, the committee took a proactive stance by embarking on awareness campaigns focused on COVID-19 and its preventive measures. Covering 15 villages around Mwanza district hospital, including Kanduku, Kasuza, Nsakambewa, Chikolosa, and Liwonde, these campaigns reached approximately 400,000 people.

Ndala stated, "This brought about a positive change as people became informed about COVID-19 and began adopting preventive measures, such as hand hygiene, mask-wearing, and avoiding crowded places."

The impact was tangible, with a resurgence of community members seeking healthcare services. Health facilities, once eerily empty, experienced a significant influx of patients across various wards.

"People who had stopped going to hospitals for HIV/AIDS, TB, and malaria treatments, along with pregnant women, resumed their regular healthcare routines," shared Ndala, emphasizing the success of the community-led efforts.

In the face of multifaceted health challenges, Traditional Authority Kanduku exemplifies the resilience that community-led initiatives can instill. By dispelling myths, providing accurate information, and fostering awareness, the project has not only addressed the immediate concerns related to COVID-19 but has also revitalized essential healthcare services, paving the way for a healthier and more informed community.


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