baby steps

Sporting a verdant ‘Vota Frelimo’ t-shirt, Maria Sergio says the current government has done a great job in providing access to healthcare in Mozambique.

I ask how long it took her to commute to the Moamba clinic today, where she’s brought her baby Assa to be vaccinated.

Two hours by train, she says. It cost me 5 Meticais (16 cents) – it’s a lot of money.

She then says that yes, maybe the government could improve access to health services.

But herein lies the problem.

Recovering from years of civil war, Mozambique is essentially a new country yet to fully find its feet. The economy is booming but its still-bruised infrastructure makes it a challenge to distribute vaccines in what is, by area, the 34th largest country in the world.

Enter VillageReach.

Since 2010, U.S.-based VillageReach has supported the Mozambique Ministry of Health in a large-scale program covering four provinces addressing a population of approximately 13 million.

The organisation is trying to address the “last mile” challenge – essentially where countries have stockpiles of life-saving vaccines, but just lack the means with which to distribute them.

Aida Coelho, VillageReach’s national program manager, says they help move the vaccines from the capital Maputo to first the provincial, and then district level, before finally distributing them to clinics like the one at Moamba.

Staff then also visit the individual clinics once a month to check on stock levels, storage methods, and the vaccine quality.

But chatting to another young mother reveals that Maria Sergio is not alone in her long commute.

As Eriqueta Boavida wrestles to keep 5-month-old Elia still for an oral dose of polio vaccine, she says it took an hour to walk to the clinic today.

Clearly what VillageReach is doing is working. Rather than risking her child’s health, and not relying on the skills of a traditional healer, Eriqueta has travelled all this way to have her child vaccinated.

So, the issue of combating that last mile challenge remains.

But hey, baby steps.

Marc Ellison is in Mozambique on a trip organized by the International Reporting Project (IRP).