UNHCR begins expanding health centre in Malawi refugee camp however more support is needed

Much need improvements are now underway in the health centre in Dzaleka refugee camp in Malawi, however without continued financial support, it will difficult to keep the center stocked with much needed medicines and supplies.


Emanciana Kisissi with her newborn son, and her sister, Mauwa Safiri in the maternity ward at Dzaleka refugee camp health center in Malawi.  © UNHCR/Dorothy Kachitsa

Dzaleka, Malawi - One day after giving birth to her second child, 23 year old Emanciana Kisissi has a lot to say about the conditions in the health centre at Dzaleka refugee camp in Malawi.

She is laying on a ripped plastic mattress, placed on a peeling metal frame in the maternity ward with nearly twenty women, some of them two to a bed and others lying on mattresses on the floor. The air was stuffy due to the sweltering heat outside and the number of people in the room.

“So much is needed. There are not enough beds for all the mothers who have just had their babies or who are going to have their babies soon. I had to give birth on a regular bed, not a bed for having a child.  The beds themselves are in poor condition and we don’t have sheets and blankets for the mattresses. The mosquito nets are old. There isn’t even a table, so we have to store our food on the floor,” she says.

Having fled unrest in her home town of Goma in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kisissi is grateful that she has a safe place to say in Malawi, but daily life can sometimes be a struggle in the camp.

Tewodros Wubayehu, UNHCR’s Public Health Officer in Malawi acknowledges that improvements are needed.  “She has explained everything perfectly about what the needs are in the health centre especially in the maternity ward.”

Dzaleka refugee camp, originally built for a population of some 9,000 people now has more than tripled in size to nearly 28,000 people. The health centre, which serves both the population in the camp and the surrounding host population has to meet the needs of an estimated 65,000 people, 60 percent of whom are Malawians.

The maternity ward at Dzaleka refugee camp in Malawi is overcrowded with both refugees and Malawian women coming to give birth. UNHCR has initiated construction of a new maternity ward and will provide new furniture, mattresses and equipment.  © UNHCR/Dorothy Kachitsa

“We are in the process of addressing most of these issues,” says Wubayehu.  “Additional blocks are being added on to the health center, including the construction of three new consultation rooms to strengthen the health care services for children under five. A special delivery ward is being built that will accommodate four delivery beds and rooms for different stages of birth, including a prenatal ward.  New beds, side tables, mattresses, mosquito nets, blankets and sheets are being procured along with a heavy duty washing machine and dryer.  We are also working with the Ministry of Health on staff training to improve health services to the community."

USAID and UK AID have also helped by recently providing a prefabricated pharmacy storeroom with air conditioning and a standby generator.

While these steps will help address the conditions in the short term, more still needs be done in order to keep health centre supplied with all the essential medicines and materials.

“The new arrivals of refugees in Malawi has been at a steady rate of between 400 – 700  people per month over the past two years,” says Monique Ekoko, UNHCR’s Representative to Malawi. “This unfortunately does not warrant calling it an emergency. However when our resources are not matched by an equivalent increase in the numbers  of persons of concern, which now stands at almost 30,000  persons of concern as compared to 19,000 in 2014 , it is a  real struggle to meet the needs. Additional funding is required to help the government bring Dzaleka health centre to the level it really should be.”

UNHCR is supporting the Government of Malawi to expand the health center in Dzaleka refugee camp in Malawi. Construction is nearly finished on the new maternity ward.  © UNHCR/Tina Ghelli

While these new improvements that are underway are too late for Kisissi, her sister, Mauwa Safiri, age 25,  is due to have her first child next month, and she hopes that the conditions will be better. “I just want to have my baby in a safe environment,” says Safiri.

 “And I want my son to grow up healthy enough to become President of Malawi,” said Kisissi to much laughter from the other women in the room.