Honourable Folks, on Wednesday this week, the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) issued a regional advisory on the global outbreak of coronavirus that originated from China this month, urging member states to take precautionary measures to avoid its further spread.
Before the warning by Sadc, there was an update issued jointly by the African Union (AU) and the Africa Centre for Disease Control (CDC) on Tuesday, stressing that there were no confirmed cases of the outbreak in Africa by Tuesday.
As rightly observed by Sadc, there is increased concern in the region over this killer and fast-spreading infection, whose death toll stood at 170 with over 7 700 confirmed cases across China by Wednesday noon.
Media reports suggest that coronavirus infections have now almost spread to every Chinese region and at least 16 countries, including France, US and Japan, among others.
The question, ladies and gentlemen, is what valid assurance is the Malawi Government giving to its citizens (both at home and in China) that they are protected from the outbreak.
According to the Malawi Embassy in China, there are over 50 Malawian students in China’s Wuhan City, which is the epicentre of the outbreak. Hundreds more Malawians are also spread across China on academic and business missions.
Much as we applaud the Ministry of Health (MoH) for developing and intensifying public messages that can help people detect and prevent contamination of the virus which is still presumptuous in Africa, authorities must come out clear on whether our health facilities indeed have the capacity to detect, manage and contain potential patients with coronavirus infection.
According to MoH spokesperson Joshua Malango, Malawi has the mechanism to diagnose coronavirus in suspected patients, and he adds that our public hospitals have the capacity to manage patients with the infection.
Of course, we have come across several messages this week developed by the government for the public in form of leaflets, health talks and press releases to raise awareness on basic health practices that are helpful in the prevention of this deadly disease.
MoH also announced a series of alert measures to help tackle any threats of coronavirus in the country. These include surveillance of the infection through screening of travellers at key entry points such as Kamuzu International Airport (KIA) and Chileka Airport, besides collaborating with the World Health Organisation (WHO) and CDC.
This is commendable on the part of the government as it points to an obligation to safeguard the 18 million population from the virus currently wiping out scores of people in China.
Still more, we cannot take the sentiments by MoH as gospel truth, mainly in view of the myriad challenges that our health sector faces due to inadequate resources. This does not include the congestions in our public hospitals.
Malawi’s envoy to China, Charles Namondwe, evacuation of Malawians stranded in China, the response by the Beijing government on the issue, is so far impressive.
Sadly, there is a successive bombardment of social media disinformation that is running rampant globally, which has subjected many Africans to lies about the infection, subsequently raising making them psychologically vulnerable to this infection.
This has not only escalated tension about the virus. It has instilled fears among people, especially those working in entry and exit points that may potentially be on frontier risks.