Mozambique: Boosting health capacity in cyclone affected Inhambane

Originally published
By Alice Kociejowski in Vilanculos, Mozambique

Mothers and children crowd the waiting area outside Vilanculos hospital in Inhambane province, on the coast of Mozambique. Three months ago, Cyclone Favio swept through this town, reaching speeds of up to 270km per hour. The heavy winds ripped off the hospital roof, destroying valuable equipment and medical supplies.

Today, the Red Cross basic health care unit that arrived here in February 2007 to support the local health authorities in the aftermath of the cyclone, is handing over equipment and supplies to the Ministry of Health, part of a plan to boost local capacity to deal with health issues and emergencies.

"We are giving this material as a gift to local organisations which are able to use it in the best way- in this case the local health authorities and Mozambique Red Cross - so that in future they have more capacity to respond to health emergencies" explains Liv Råd, team leader of the Red Cross Basic Health Care Emergency Response Unit.

Local nurses, doctors and midwives - an integrated part of the health care unit from the first days of its arrival - have provided medical assistance for up to 275 patients per day. The existing Vilanculos hospital was severely damaged by the cyclone, and the health care unit, which is valued at around $1 million USD and includes medical staff and administrators from Canadian, Norwegian and Mozambique Red Cross, has supplied tents, equipment and medical supplies that are allowing the Ministry of Health to provide uninterrupted medical services while rehabilitation gets under way.

"We have focused our services on 5 key areas - general clinic, mother and child clinic, vaccinations, mobile clinic and maternity care" adds Råd. "Disease prevention is particularly important - that means health education and hygiene awareness, especially for woman and mothers who tend to be the main care providers".

More than 69 per cent of the more 15,000 patients seen by the Basic Health Care unit were women, and 29 per cent children under the age of five.

Activities to increase health awareness and reduce morbidity have included distribution of treated mosquito nets to expectant mothers, and a hospital clean up campaign to eradicate mosquito breeding grounds. Malaria counts for 30% of all hospital deaths in Mozambique and is particularly dangerous for pregnant women who run the risk of anaemia and delivering babies with low birth weight.

Eradication of breeding sites, and correct use of treated mosquito nets are simple but effective ways to prevent transmission. The Basic Health unit has also provided a rapid malaria test kit that will facilitate faster diagnosis and treatment.

As the hospital rehabilitation progresses and regular services are relocated to hospital premises, the basic health unit is ensuring the local branch of Mozambique Red Cross and local health authorities are ready to face future health emergencies.

In April, Red Cross volunteers and representatives from the Ministry of Health took part in a two day training session on how to set up a basic health unit, including site planning, preparation and management, which will enable a rapid and efficient response in case of future health emergencies.

Julito Juliao, a Red Cross volunteer for 15 years, took part in the training. "I am already trained in first aid, water and sanitation and HIV/AIDS prevention. This course gave me a new skill. It will certainly be useful during the next disaster. With a little external help we'll be able to set up a health unit like this one."

This training, together with the handover of equipment, will increase the overall emergency response capacity in Mozambique. As Dr. Noe Massango, chief medical director of Inhambane Province, explains: "This equipment is very useful. It will help us respond to health emergencies here in Inhambane, and is the kind of equipment that can be redeployed in at least 5 different disaster prone provinces to increase local response capacity in the future".

International members of the Basic Health Unit team are now preparing to fly back home, many to regular jobs in health facilities or teaching hospitals, until the next call for disaster emergency response. Meanwhile, plans are in full swing to support reconstruction of the damaged health facilities.

Norwegian Red Cross is partially funding this reconstruction, which will restore the much needed permanent structures and allow patients and doctors alike to move out of the tents that still house many of the hospital and health clinic wards. The Ministry of Health will continue to operate the tented ERU until they are able to move into rehabilitated clinic buildings.

The Basic Health Care unit was funded with support from ECHO, the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Norwegian and Canadian Red Cross Societies and CIDA.