Inept and incompetent.
Those adjectives may not even suffice to describe how we Malawians have handled the Covid-19 pandemic.
We have been aware about the pandemic since it broke out in Wuhan, China, in late 2019. We waited and smiled as the disease globalised to Asia, Europe, the Americas and finally to Africa. We here sat on our laurels thinking we were impervious and special.
We held on to our beliefs, most of them touting natural African genetic resistance to pandemics and the special love God has set aside for the African race, that the disease would just disappear.
Then the international community forced us to do something. It gave us money, literally bribing us to accept that Covid-19 was serious. In March, 2020, over four months after the Covid-19 outbreak, a presidential committee was instituted, headed by a Minister of Health without any knowledge of health issues, and an all Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) team.
It closed schools indefinitely and suspended worship services while leaving half-open markets, drinking joints, funeral gatherings, party campaigns, weddings and many other social activities.
Understandably people resisted the partial lockdown because, unlike in other countries where lockdowns were imposed, livelihoods and government bailouts were not announced. Many sympathized with the argument that stopping marketing and small-scale businesses would be catastrophic to the majority of mostly urban Malawians.
Some even suspected that the lockdown was a DPP tactic to keep postponing the fresh presidential elections. Others argued that the government was simply out to make money from the COVID-19 response to sponsor its campaign activities. Indeed, a leaked video on social media caught two ministers, members of the DPP Covid-19 team, discussing personal daily subsistence allowances whose real amount the ministers later disputed as exaggerated.
The team was dissolved but the performance of the new team, headed by another minister who does not have any idea about health, has not changed. We are still using scare tactics instead of behaviour change approaches. Mathematical models have been bandied claiming that if we don’t abide by the Covid-19 presidential guidelines, nearly 16 million (out of 18 million) Malawians would catch the virus and as many as 500 thousand would die in June 2020 before the infections levelled off or dropped.
What’s painfully disappointing is that the statistics are very clear that most of infections are coming into Malawi through Tanzania, Mozambique, Zambia and South Africa by Malawians returning home. Why are these cases allowed to get to crowded cities?
For a country of 18 million people, less than 2000 people have been tested since the pandemic broke out. What does that say about our state of readiness despite the billions of Kwacha set aside to fight Covid-19?
For nearly one month now, media are disinterestedly announcing daily updates on Covid-19. No explanation about why only four people have died of the disease and how that compares with deaths from, say, malaria. Local suggestions and solutions about fighting the virus are being ignored. While almost all countries in Sadc and East Africa have endorsed the Madagascan herbal solution, in Malawi laws are being cited in threats against traditional herbal solutions.
In Senegalese, Ghana, South Africa, Cameroon medical and engineering teams are coming up with testing kits, and studying the DNA of the virus to come up with a vaccine while their Malawian counterparts are waiting for miracles.
Our free advice is that the Covid-19 response should be delegated to the non-partisan apolitical National Aids Commission (NAC) because it is probably the only organisation in Malawi that has the experience in handling serious viral epidemics. NAC understands that epidemics like HIV/Aids and Covid-19 affect all sectors of society involved in the fight against HIV/AIDS spread. NAC has reached out even to the smallest Island communities in Malawi with social and behaviour change communication (SBCC) and prevention kits. The Covid-19 team has ignored all structures that matter in addressing epidemics requiring SBCC. No cultural and heritage association has been involved.
During cholera outbreaks, Malawians readily accept isolation and quarantine. If you ask NAC, you will learn that the Covid-19 team has not convinced people that self-isolation and quarantine are good for self and other members of society.
That’s why they are bolting.
Delegate the Covid-19 response to NAC. Urgently.