by Amanda Schwartz and Robbie Flick
If you're looking for hope, you probably wouldn't look for it in a warehouse.
It's dark, dusty, and cramped. Boxes stacked ceiling-high teeter precariously overhead. Everything feels a little too big and heavy to carry, let alone disseminate across hundreds of kilometers of pitted, axle-snapping dirt roads in Neno, one of Malawi's most remote and rural districts.
Neno is the kind of place where a simple health commodity -- a mosquito net, a wheelchair, a satchel of therapeutic food -- drastically changes lives. This simple truth, combined with the generosity and solidarity of our staff and our many partners dedicated to addressing the needs of our patients, has transformed our warehouse in Malawi. Those dusty, precarious stacks of boxes are packed full of the kinds of health commodities that every day save and improve countless lives. Partners In Health's warehouse in Neno is not only a story about hope in commodities (though if you're barefoot or hungry or handicapped, there is hope enough in that); it is also a story about hope in partnerships.
Partners In Health was built on the kind of pragmatic solidarity that is found only in partnership. From our earliest days, we’ve known that our partners—from our government partners in local ministries of health, to our implementing partners who help us deliver basic rights, to our funding partners who make this work possible—are the cornerstone to breaking the global cycle of poverty and disease. And yet, while we've long known that our work is built on the pillars of partnership, we've simply never seen hope as clearly as we can when we are standing in a dusty warehouse in Neno, staring up at boxes stacked, ever so precariously, upon boxes.
What does hope in a warehouse look like? Here are five ways our partners are making a difference in Neno.
Dignity in Mobility
For all of her young life, Ruth, a cerebral palsy patient, was unable to access even the most basic medical devices. Her condition left her unable to walk, sentencing her to a lifetime crawling across the ground. Thanks to our partnership with the Walkabout Foundation, Ruth and dozens like her now have functional wheelchairs custom-sized to meet their specific dimensions, bringing both mobility and dignity to their lives. In line with PIH's long-term commitment to both the rights of our patients to receive care, and the capacity of community health workers to deliver it, the Walkabout Foundation provided training for disability health workers in sizing, assembly, and maintenance. If Ruth's wheelchair needs repair, or if over time she needs a new one, our local staff now has the tools and skills to ensure that she receives it.
Reaching Every Child in Neno District
Through our partnership with TOMS Shoes we have the privilege of not only distributing new shoes at every school in Neno district, but also implementing important health interventions, such as administering de-worming medication and conducting rapid nutritional assessment to actively identify malnourished children across the district and increase our capacity for public health surveillance. For the first time, PIH will be able to reach every child in Neno district twice a year through these distributions— an unprecedented opportunity to improve the delivery of health care to tens of thousands of children living in some of the hardest-to-reach areas of the country.
When Rachel, a young HIV-positive child, arrived at our hospital severely malnourished, our clinical staff quickly treated her with specially formulated calorie-rich food satchets, provided through our partnership with Two Degrees, which helped nurture her back to health. Just two weeks later she was able to go home, and continues to receive Likuni Phala, a fortified porridge blend enriched with vital micronutrients, also provided by Two Degrees.
In Malawi—a country of 15 million people—malaria is a notorious killer, afflicting 7 million Malawians last year alone, almost half the population. Individuals in remote districts such as Neno are at particularly high risk, as they have traditionally had poor access to long-lasting insecticidal nets (LLINs), a key element for malaria prevention. Our partnership with TAM TAM changes that, making LLINs accessible for our most vulnerable patients. Now, thousands of infants and pregnant women sleep comfortably under LLINs, a simple commodity that means all the difference between a healthy childhood and an excruciating and unnecessary death.
HIV Testing and Prevention
When we faced an acute shortage of condoms, the Red Hot Organization acted quickly with a donation that ensures that every community health event includes this important intervention. Knowing that prevention goes hand-in-hand with testing, the Red Hot Organization is also supporting the costs of our HIV test kits this year, which will be used at our 13 clinical facilities across Neno.
Amanda Schwartz is partnerships manager at PIH, and Robbie Flick is health programs coordinator in Malawi.