THE SCOURGE OF COVID-19: The Malawi Scenario
By Vera Kamtukule
On 20th March 2020, the President of the Republic of Malawi Prof Arthur Peter Mutharika declared a State of Disaster over the coronavirus pandemic. He further ordered the closure of schools by 23rd of March 2020 and the suspension of public gatherings. For churches and other groupings, this means that they must observe the 1 meter social distance and the number of participants must not exceed 100.
For the first time in the history of this nation, we are seeing very high levels of compliance to the presidential decree as well as guidance set up by the Ministry of Health and other health stakeholders. The Ministry of Health has interpreted the presidential decree to provide guidelines for health workers across the country. With support from the WHO and the CDC, the Ministry has set up 2 testing sites at the moment in Lilongwe. At the moment, borders have been closed and only people from SADC are being allowed in. People are being screened at the Songwe, Chileka, Karonga, Mloza and Mchinji borders as well as the Chileka and Kamuzu International airports. The Government has set up isolation sites in Mwanza, Dedza, Karonga and Blantyre. All people who entered Malawi before the presidential decree were placed under self-quarantine and all those who have since come back home from countries at risk are also being placed under self-quarantine. People are practicing social distancing and almost every office including shops, churches and bars have placed hand washing facilities outside of their entrance doors. We are currently experience a shortage of hand sanitizers as well as hand washing liquids in shops.
Messages are being sent out everywhere so much so that even young children are washing their hands every now and again and avoiding as much as possible to touch their faces. On the social media however, there has been growing tensions from people with some believing that even though we may not have any official cases of the COVID-19 in the country, we may actually have some cases because we have not been tested yet. News from across the world on how rapid the virus is spreading is being shared from everywhere. And there has been confusing messages on the virus with some believing that it may actually be airborne. All these conflicting messages are creating panic within the country. Initially, people believed that the virus cannot affect black people; or that even when it does, they will survive. But news from other countries indicates that black people are actually being affected by the virus and some are even succumbing to the same through death.
It is increasingly being accepted that the virus is affecting the entire world at an equal footing. Italy, France, the USA and the United Kingdom with all their admirable health systems are struggling to contain the situation. While Malawi has well trained Doctors and other medical professionals, it is not a secret that the system lacks adequate resources at all levels; and therefore should a virus like this come our way, we may have challenges in containing the same especially in the rural areas. While efforts by the government and other stakeholders are commendable, we know this for sure; that the fight against COVID 19 cannot be fought by government alone, it will require our collective effort to defeat it because at the moment, no one is safe and all we have is hope that a solution will be found soon enough.