After registering a comparatively low number of cases earlier in the COVID-19 pandemic, Malawi is now experiencing a rapid rise in cases and has declared a state of disaster. Reported cases are regularly over 1,000 a day and Malawi’s Minister of Health has confirmed this number could be much higher were more people to be tested.
Earlier this month, two cabinet ministers died on the same day after testing positive for COVID-19. Along with the deaths of three MPs, traditional leaders, a popular journalist and numerous high-profile members of Malawian society, who can access and afford the best care available, this has been a stark reminder that coronavirus is a serious threat to all.
This new state of disaster has seen the government employ numerous restrictions in order to stop the spread of the virus. Face coverings must be worn at all times in public, public gatherings are limited to 50 people, schools are closed for three weeks, operating hours for markets and hospitality settings are limited and an evening curfew is now in effect. In addition, these restrictions are written in the law and are being enforced by the police.
Coronavirus Vaccination in Malawi
While plans for vaccination in the UK are being measured in months, Malawi, like many resource-poor countries, will expect this process to take years. 4 million doses of the Oxford vaccine for healthcare workers and the vulnerable are being made available to Malawi through the COVAX programme. Vaccinations are hoped to start in March, but much needs to be done to prepare for distribution and to combat fake news about vaccine safety.
As such the government has the unenviable task of trying to stop the spread of the virus, but without the restrictions themselves causing undue harm to the most vulnerable citizens.
Mulanje Mission Hospital reports a rise in early pregnancies which is being attributed to girls and men being at home as a result of school and work closures. There are similar reports from around the country along with increased cases of illegal child marriages and child sexual assault. This demonstrates the fragile balance of protecting citizens from coronavirus and other dangers they might face.
Protecting Malawi’s Healthcare Workers
Your support has provided our partners with additional protective equipment and sanitation supplies. As has been seen around the world, frontline healthcare workers are at a high risk of contracting the virus. At least 917 healthcare workers in Malawi have tested positive and 6 have died, including staff at Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital in Blantyre, where EMMS’s partner PCST works. Many staff at Mulanje Mission Hospital have tested positive but, thankfully, have remained mild and managed well in quarantine.
We’re thankful that Beatrice Mang’anda, our senior nurse palliative care consultant in Malawi, is recovering well after 10 days on oxygen after testing positive for COVID-19. Lameck Thambo, Director of PACAM, and Glenda Winga, M&E Manager of PACAM have both tested positive with mild symptoms and are currently self-isolating at home for ten days before getting another test.
After a relatively low number of cases last year, the reality is now very different with cases in every district, expansion of testing and treatment facilities nationwide, and funerals related to COVID-19 becoming an increasingly common sight.
EMMS Partner Response
In addition to early efforts to procure PPE, improve sanitation and protect vital healthcare services our partners are now responding to the second wave of the pandemic.
Mulanje and Nkhoma mission hospitals are approved testing centres for COVID-19, along with Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital, where Palliative Care Support Trust is based. They are all also treating patients with COVID-19.
Mulanje Mission Hospital is improving water and sanitation at Muloza Health Centre, which is the epicentre of the Covid-19 outbreak in Mulanje District. MMH’s Head of Primary Health Care is leading the task of improving water and sanitation for the benefit of both patients and staff, and also of establishing TB detection committees at 6 government health centres in Mulanje District, including Muloza Health Centre. Malawi and international donors risk forgetting TB detection and treatment while they concentrate efforts on COVID-19.
Our 5 partners of Chifundo, our national palliative care project, have adapted their working patterns and activities to continue to deliver the project as best they can.
EMMS International is in regular contact with partners to understand how we can continue to work together and support vital health services through this time of great pressure.