I recently returned from a trip to Malawi where I had the opportunity to visit several families who have benefited from Chipatala Cha Pa Foni, or Health Center by Phone, a toll-free health hotline in Malawi that connects individuals directly with trained health workers who provide information, advice and referrals over the phone. One of those visits was with the Richards family who live in Kazondo Village in Balaka, a district in southern Malawi.
As I traveled on the long dirt road to their home, there were fewer and fewer houses. When we finally made it to the end of the road, I was greeted by Patuma, her husband, and their five children, including 5-year-old Pricilla. Until recently, Pricilla suffered from Epistaxis, frequent nose bleeds exacerbated by hot weather and malnutrition. Like many people in her village, Patuma’s family does not have transportation, and the nearest health facility is more than an hour’s journey away on foot. Patuma and Pricilla have made this journey several times in the past few months. Patuma told me about a recent trip where Priscilla began to vomit blood and they set out once again on the long trip to the hospital, but when they arrived, the medication used to treat the condition was stocked out (a common occurrence), and instead she was given painkillers which did not address her condition. Frustrated, Patuma and Pricilla began the long journey back home to their village.
This is the last mile of healthcare – where distance, infrastructure, availability of medicines and trained health workers are a constant challenge. Because of distance in particular, making the decision to seek care is often a difficult one: weighing the cost and physical impact of travel against health concerns.
Fortunately, Patuma found out about CCPF. When Patuma called, a hotline worker was able to advise her on several techniques to alleviate Pricilla’s nose bleeds such as a cold compress on the forehead, staying out of the sun for long periods of time, and practicing good nutrition. After several weeks, Patuma called the hotline again – this time to thank them for helping her daughter, noting a marked improvement in Pricilla’s condition.
“CCPF is a very good service, a lot of people are being helped and they don’t have to travel to the hospital anymore, which is very good,” said Patuma.
Her husband also expressed his satisfaction with the service. “Sometimes, when we go to the hospital, we don’t get all the information we need, and when we don’t understand what to do, we can now call CCPF to get answers,” he says.
For many people in high-income countries, access to healthcare means a short drive, a quick phone call, or a few minutes search online – all things that are easily taken for granted when they are so accessible. Meeting Patuma, Pricilla and their family at their home after driving many miles to reach them, I am reminded how significant CCPF is for communities that lack access to basic healthcare.
With CCPF, more than 1.3 million people in Malawi now have access to health information over the phone, bridging a critical gap in access for remote communities. Sometimes, the call is routine – an estimated birth date for an expectant mother or recommended treatments for common conditions like Pricilla’s. Other times, CCPF is a critical, life-saving link to the health system – ensuring that the caller understands the potential severity of their symptoms and helping them access the care and services they need.
As a mother of two young children myself, I can identify with Patuma’s journey as a mother. It is the same journey that we, as mothers, all take. We are all trying to do what is best for our children and make the right decisions about their care. A translator helped Patuma and I communicate, but it was almost unnecessary. I saw in her eyes and her smile how much she cares for her children and how grateful she is to have a service like CCPF. Reflecting on this visit, I am filled with optimism knowing that more families will soon have access to this innovative service thanks to the commitment of the Malawi Ministry of Health, partners like Airtel, and all those who support VillageReach.