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COVID-19 Frontline Voices: Overcoming Anxiety

Dr Arie Glas, Medical Director for Mulanje Mission Hospital focused on how the hospital staff and community at large are overcoming the anxiety of coronavirus during his report to Scotland Malawi Partnership’s Faith Links Forum.

“There is a lot of anxiety at the moment and that plays out on different levels.” As hospital staff have encountered coronavirus those anxieties have taken different forms.

Will I get coronavirus?

Initially, staff were apprehensive about treating patients. They had read reports of the impact of the virus in other countries, particularly, at that stage, China and Italy. They’d seen images of patients being wheeled into busy quarantine facilities and overflowing intensive care units by staff in full protective clothing.

Such personal protective equipment wasn’t widely available, or quarantine and intensive care facilities. Thanks to your support of the emergency appeal, Mulanje Mission Hospital has been able to engage local tailors to produce essential PPE.

Where does this come from?

As COVID-19 was confirmed in Malawi, the country was locked in a political impasse awaiting the rerun of the presidential elections. Some people were of the view that coronavirus was fake or being exaggerated for political gain.

For many, COVID-19 was seen as a foreign virus coming from abroad. This has led to tensions between Malawians and those seen as coming from 'outside' and bringing the virus - much the same as has been seen in America, where some insist on labelling it the 'China virus'.

Debates abound in churches as to how to respond. Is this God’s judgement? Is gathering to pray a better response, a display of faith and not fear? Mulanje district is no stranger to rumours of curses and witchcraft, with bloodsucker myths being a recurring issue in the area.

Add to this the challenges of access to education and reliable information and the increasing prevalence of WhatsApp to share rumours. All of this contributed to apprehension over coronavirus.

Your support for the emergency appeal has enabled Mulanje Mission Hospital to engage communities with constructive information on how to combat COVID-19, allaying the fears of healthcare workers and communities alike.

What happens if I contract coronavirus?

Mulanje Mission Hospital has cared for patients with coronavirus, some of whom have died as a result of the virus. With coronavirus not only in their communities but in their place of work, staff were rightly concerned about the impact of the virus. As principal breadwinners for their families, many were worried about the impact on their households if they became sick.

As time has gone on, experience is helping staff overcome these anxieties. They are seeing more and more people recover from COVID-19. They are seeing how they can use the resources at their disposal to care for those in need. Support for the emergency appeal is providing essential materials to help equip them in this daily work.

What happens to the hospital?

This pandemic does not occur in isolation and, in Malawi, the fight for better health is fought on many fronts. COVID-19 has been the focus of headlines and government priorities, yet malaria, malnutrition, diabetes and hypertension are no less prevalent than before coronavirus. However, funding, resources and staffing for many ongoing health challenges have disappeared as a result of coronavirus. Dr Arie estimated that around 90% of diabetes and hypertension programmes are either not being delivered or have had their funding cut in recent months.

EMMS International’s partnership with Mulanje Mission Hospital is not limited to COVID-19. With your continued support, we’ve seen the expansion of palliative care services, completion of the hospital’s solar power switch and development of primary healthcare services.

As Dr Arie reported that while some anxieties have subsided, others have grown. Malawi has seen many challenges in recent years and persevered despite the anxieties they have brought. Amid these present anxieties, he encouraged us to “keep walking with the people of Malawi.” He closed with this verse:

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” - Philippians 4:6


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