Lilongwe, Malawi 12th November, 2022 (AEJ) – A Public Private Partnership agreement focusing on improving health outcomes has evolved into integrating soil fertility, agro-biodiversity, education and food systems connecting human well-being to environmental health is paying off dividends six years after kick- off at Area 25 Health Centre in Lilongwe.
The Ministry of Health and Baylor College of Medicine are piloting a human and environmental agro-ecology initiative diversifying food systems, promoting environmental stewardship and an improved quality of life for all at what is now a referral facility for other health units within the catchment area.
The integration at the health facility began in 2016 as a small permaculture designed garden, which Intensified and expanded in 2019 as services increased to promote the nexus between human and environmental health.
Permaculture and Environment Coordinator at the resilience demonstration site at Area 25 Health Centre, Afshan Omar says they are working with youth groups in the surrounding areas of Mgona, Msungwi and Dzenza to raise awareness around relevant health and environmental topics including clean-ups, tree planting and waste management.
"The site teaches expectant and new mothers to cook and grow nutritious affordable food, be environmental stewards, build soil health, promote a quality of life they may have not considered and know that they deserve a beautiful space," explained Omar at the site.
Adds Omar, we are coupling with health education and awareness to decrease maternal and neo-natal mortalities while improving health outcomes.
"The facility in 2021 managed to handle about 7,500 deliveries of new born babies. As we are speaking there are now every 25 deliveries per day in 2022," she explained adding “Every mother, her baby and their guardian leave the facility with three seedlings, a fruit tree, an indigenous tree and a bamboo, contributing to afforestation within an increasingly degraded peri-urban landscape, while also understanding the importance of dietary diversification.”
The initiative at Area 25 health facility which now boosts of an operating theatre and a new bigger block under construction as a labour ward blends well with what WaterAid a leading International NGO is championing on the provision of clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene as basic human rights in the holistic programming in sustainability, planning and financing of water sanitation and hygiene (WASH).
Natasha Mwenda, WaterAid Deliver Life 2 Project Manager recently told the media in Lilongwe that clean water and sanitation especially in health facilities are a benchmark in line with the World Health Assembly Resolution of 2019 which Malawi is a signatory.
The UN resolution calls upon member states to integrate safe water, sanitation and hygiene into health programming, including nutrition and maternal, child and new-born health within the context of safe, quality and integrated people-centred health services, effective universal health coverage, infection prevention and control, and containment of antimicrobial resistance.
Mwenda also appealed for adequate financing in the sector adding less than 3 percent is allocated to WASH activities in the country.
WaterAid, AMREF, Mary's Meals and National Initiative for Civic Education and Malawi Government are working towards empowering citizens in WASH activities in institutions like schools, health facilities, Early Childhood Education Centres and markets to contain waterborne related diseases with support from the Scottish Government.
When asked to weigh in on the food systems perspective in reference to expectant women, Omar was quick to advise that Malawi need mindset change on what constitute food. "We need to change the rhetoric that revolves around maize, a staple food, as the primary source of food in the country," she said after touring the site emphasizing on dietary diversification among the different food groups to ensure good nutrition.
Omar advised, with a growing awareness around the importance of adapting to and mitigating the impacts of climate change. A system like this is designed to combat the multiple impacts, this is an example to all to consider and think about. For instance, what species of trees are we planting? We must take caution and heed technical advice to not further impact fragile ecosystems, referring to invasive species and those trees that are thirsty like eucalyptus.
She called for purposeful synergies and partnerships amongst multiple sectors to address the numerous challenges being faced in Malawi to arrest food insecurity, combat climate change and improve the health and well-being for all.