Four days after the country reported the first three cases of coronavirus (Covid-19), the Lilongwe District Health Office (DHO) says it has traced 60 people believed to have had contact with the index patient.
In an interview on Sunday , Lilongwe DHO Alinafe Mbewe- Tambala confirmed in an interview on Sunday that her office has to traced the 60 people who could have been either in direct or indirect contacted with the 61-year-old woman first diagnosed with Covid-19 after travelling to India.
She said the 60 also included students at Bishop Mackenzie International High School where the first case’s grandson learns.
Said Mbewe-Tambala: “So far, we have traced 60 people in connection to the first case. They are under 14 days surveillance and the tracing is ongoing.
“We have done all the necessary tracing from the workers and co-workers at the compound [in Area 9], including extending to the school of the child at Bishop Mackenzie. We did this because he [the grandson] was exposed to it from the granny who he usually stays with after school.”
President Peter Mutharika on March 20 banned public gatherings of more than 100 people and ordered closure of schools from March 23 as part of precautionary measures to guard against Covid-19.
Malawi currently has four Covid-19 cases—three in Lilongwe linked to the Area 9 woman and one of a student in Mpingwe, Blantyre, who had returned from the United Kingdom.
The DHO said the first woman with the first confirmed case arrived in the country through Kamuzu International Airport (KIA) on March 8 from India.
“By that time, India was not on the list of countries at risk because the cases [in India] had not reached 700 yet, but the woman did a self-quarantine and we took her test which first came negative and later positive. So, we further put her under quarantine to see how she is fairing,” said Mbewe-Tambala.
She said workers and their extended families have been earmarked for the tracing which is ongoing. She said the index patient has never gone out of her compound after testing positive for Covid-19.
The DHO also said that there are four teams conducting the tracing.
Ministry of Health sources confided that the procedure is that a person found positive should remain in self-isolation either at home or a hospital if their symptoms are mild while those in critical condition should be treated as in-patients at established treatment centres.
The source also said contacts for each case are supposed to be traced and tested, especially where they show symptoms.
But the source said resource constraints were hampering the exercise with Lilongwe DHO having one vehicle for testing and two for follow-ups.
Said the source: “The three vehicles have to cover both contacts as well as any new potential cases. In fact, the other two vehicles are pool vehicles, not fully committed to these activities. That leaves one vehicle.”
On Thursday, Ministry of Health director of quality management and digital health Dr. Andrew Likaka told a meeting in Blantyre that there were about 4 500 people on self-quarantine nationwide for Covid-19, but admitted facing challenges to track suspected patients. He said the development puts the country at high risk of the outbreak.
He said: “It is, therefore, becoming difficult for health workers to make follow-ups, mainly on those that are on self-isolation. Tracking them is actually a nightmare. It is something we cannot dare afford to be doing now.”
Meanwhile, the President has directed recruitment of 2 000 health workers to assist in the fight against the virus.
In a national address to unveil new measures to fight Covid-19, Mutharika said: “I am also directing the Ministry of Health to recruit 2 000 health workers to assist in the fight of the pandemic.
“We need more soldiers and human power in this fight. I am directing Treasury to increase the risk allowances for our health workers as a matter of urgency. The welfare of healthcare workers is our welfare. Their safety is our safety.”
In an interview on Sunday, Ministry of Health spokesperson Joshua Malango said the 2 000 will be recruited on permanent basis in all cadres comprising medical doctors, clinicians and nurses. He said the recruitment will also include community health workers.
He said: “All cadres, including community health workers, will be recruited; Covid-19 is affecting the health system. The procedure on the recruitment will be worked out with relevant departments within the next 72 hours as guided by the President.”
The Malawi health sector is said to have a vacancy rate of 52 percent, the most hit being pharmacy technicians at 79 percent, according to Malawi Health Equity Network (Mhen) executive director George Jobe who said that the move to recruit 2 000 health workers will ease the pressure that is there.
He said Mhen’s wish was for government to recruit all the health workers who graduated and are not employed.
“We believe the number will be increased in due course as the Minister of Health once said that the ministry would recruit about 3 000 health workers,” said Jobe.
On March 20, Mutharika declared the country a State of Disaster on the basis of Covid-19 attack.