First Deputy Speaker of Parliament Madalitso Kazombo first started feeling like he had fever and malaria. But later, the problem got worse and he was advised to take a Covid-19 test.
Not wanting to use his privilege and get the test at a private facility, he opted for Kamuzu Central Hospital (KCH) where hundreds of poor Malawians seeking the test are gathering every day.
In an interview, Kazombo says he wanted to experience what ordinary citizens are going through to access the Covid-19 test in public facilities across the country.
“I queued at KCH for an hour or so before I got tested. While on my way home to wait for the next day to get my results, I went to ABC Clinic for an X-ray to check how my internal organs are functioning.
“This is where they told me that my lungs were failing to function properly, a sign that I have Covid-19. So, I actually knew what to expect from my test at KCH,” he recalls.
The following day, the First Deputy Speaker went to KCH to collect his test result which indeed confirmed that he had Covid-19.
Luckily, he had already started treatment administered to him at ABC Clinic the previous day.
However, when Kazombo recovered, he decided to do something for his compatriots, especially for those suffering Malawians seeking medical attention from rural hospitals.
Using his experience at the testing centre and as a Covid-19 patient, the First Deputy Speaker is mobilising contributions towards stocking hospitals with Covid-19 treatment resources.
He says: “I identified several gaps such as few testing kits, few health personnel to conduct the tests, lack of essential drugs and equipment to treat Covid and unavailability of counselling services for those found positive.
“I feel issues of mental health should be integrated in the Covid-19 testing package. For me, I managed to get counselling, but how many people can afford that? Another thing which I felt should be available in public hospitals is the chest X-ray component which I got at ABC Clinic.”
As of Sunday, his initiative had raised almost K10 million. Part of this money has already been used to procure 10 oxygen cylinders for Kasungu District Hospital where he noted a dire need for resources which was forcing management to refer cases to KCH.
While he is happy that the initiative, mostly spearheaded via social media, is bearing fruits as the district hospital has been able to treat about three patients requiring oxygen support, Kazombo is worried that most Malawians are not following the Covid-19 preventive measures.
He says: “It is unfortunate that people are not following the measures. People in rural communities should be seriously civic educated about the preventive measures that are in place. This should be coupled with positive messages that should give people hope that all is not lost.
“At this point, I also feel it would be better if all Malawians should reduce going out to public places. It is saddening to see how people are still overcrowding shops and supermarkets.
“But I guess this is because they do not have a choice. I think now is the best time for shops and supermarkets to diversify and consider e-commerce, online shopping and partnerships with courier companies.”
Kazombo also feels that it is high time the country’s public hospitals were readied for major diseases such as Covid-19 to avoid the situation where health facilities are overburdened.
“Imagine if a policy was made in the 1980s that any senior government official who falls sick should seek medical care in public hospitals and not go outside the country to India or South Africa? Our hospitals would have been up to standard.
“Personally, as Madalitso Kazombo a Malawian, I feel Covid-19 has been a wake-up call for government to start pumping more resources to the health sector. As this is being done, let us also consider district hospitals because that is where many poor people who cannot afford private health care are found,” he says.
Malawi Health Equity Network (Mhen) executive director George Jobe hopes Kazombo’s initiative will yield positive impact and responses.
However, he called on all public hospitals to be open and list all challenges they face and any resources they may need to fight the pandemic.
Says Jobe: “This is an initiative coming from somebody who is a Covid-19 survivor. His call will have an impact because he is an eye behind the walls.
“We can now see issues lacking in hospitals. So, our hospitals must be proactive and bring out challenges which are there…”
In his national address over a week ago, President Lazarus Chakwera commended efforts by citizens to support government in the fight against Covid-19, admitting that government cannot do it alone.
Days earlier, Chakwera declared the country a State of National Disaster and appealed for financial and material support in the fight against the deadly pandemic.
Other Malawians, such as renowned France-based writer Stanley Onjezani Kenani and Thandiwe Hara based in the United Kingdom, are also raising funds to support the Covid-19 response in the country.
The fundraising initiative, born over a week ago, has so far raised almost K100 million which is being used to buy supplies for Queen Elizabeth, Zomba, Kamuzu and Mzuzu central hospitals.