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'We'll help Malawi navigate Stormy Cs, with Cyclone Freddy adding to the list'

In an opinion piece for 'The Scotsman', EMMS International's CEO and Director of International Programmes, Cathy Ratcliff, addresses the impact of Cyclone Freddy and the work of Edinburgh-based EMMS in Malawi.


Not long ago I wrote about the Perfect Storm of COVID, Cost of Living Crisis, Climate Change, and Cuts to aid. Then we added Cholera in Malawi to that list of stormy Cs.

And now I’m writing about Cyclone Freddy, which has brought the most utter devastation to southern Malawi. If you’ve seen any film footage of its floods, it is probably not the most harrowing videos that have found their way to you. Staff in EMMS International, which improves healthcare in Malawi, have spared the public from the most graphic sights that have crossed our screens. You can imagine these scenes, if you consider that in just one week of breakneck floods and winds, 476 people have died, 349 people are missing, and 490,000 people are displaced, many living in temporary camps. Houses, roads, bridges and schools are swept away, and water and sanitation are badly damaged. Imagine the force of nature that is doing all that.


It's happened before in Malawi, and it will happen again. This is the reality of climate change. Southern Malawi’s poverty makes the impact huge, each time. Flimsy housing collapses in massive floods, latrines made of homemade bricks dissolve in the onslaught of water, public buildings are flattened by fallen trees, rain batters bare slopes devoid of trees and turns it into landslides, and contaminated wells force people to travel to clean water – or use dirty water. All this is happening during Malawi’s worst ever outbreak of cholera, a water-borne disease.


EMMS International is already helping, and poised to do more. We are long-term steady supporters of healthcare in Malawi. In the last 10 years alone in Malawi, we have developed 2 diploma courses and 1 BSc course, sponsored 95 vulnerable women through college and into healthcare careers, renovated 5 rural health centres, provided 4 ambulances, instigated 300 staff-community committees which increased use of healthcare by 300,000 people, treated and helped thousands stay safe from COVID-19, increased COVID vaccination rates, reduced HIV transmissions, supported hospitals to improve their primary healthcare, improved their infrastructure, started palliative care in each of Malawi’s 28 districts, and raised Malawi’s integration of palliative care to its health service to be on a par with the UK’s. And more. We punch well above our weight – just six staff, a tiny office, no sleek TV ads, and money that goes directly to our work.


Given our country-wide work in Malawi, when COVID-19 hit Malawi, we helped 30 health facilities and their communities throughout Malawi stay safe from COVID-19, with infection control and health education. In South Malawi, where health and poverty are worst, we have improved water and sanitation in the 8 health centres with the worst facilities. Some had no running water or toilets – staff had to fetch water from a river and walk home to use a toilet. When cholera broke and in February became the worst that Malawi has ever experienced, we started fundraising to complete works in another 12 health centres. We have already done the needs assessments and negotiations with the health centres’ owners, including that they will maintain systems installed. We have staffed up our partner to manage these remaining 12 health centres’ improvements, and we know our partner’s slick procurement processes and financial integrity. We are ready to go.


There have been 54,000 cases of cholera and 1,700 reported deaths from cholera in Malawi over the last year. Cholera is preventable. When we install safe water at a health centre, the whole community uses it. It is an investment in health, and is urgently needed. Rainy season, floods and cholera make a perfect storm - but we can prevent the cholera.


To help prevent cholera in Malawi, go to https://www.emms.org/cholera .

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