Cases of the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) continue to rise in the country, owing to the recklessness during the just-ended fresh presidential election campaign, but also failure to manage returnees from South Africa. In this interview, our Mzuzu Bureau Supervisor JOSEPH MWALE engaged Malawi Country Representative for the World Health Organisation (WHO) NONHLANHLA ROSEMARY DLAMINI, who argues that Malawi is on the right track to tackle Covid-19.
How do you assess Malawi’s response so far to Covid-19?
Malawi’s response to Covid-19 thus far has been good. A number of interventions are in place and government as well as development partners are providing resources. Just to mention a few; a multi-sectoral response plan is in place and is being implemented with different sectors taking their role; there is a strong government coordination and leadership led by the Presidential Task Force on Covid-19, clusters and sub-technical committees; funding and resource mobilisation have been reasonable.
With this level of capacity, the country has been able to prevent high local transmission rates and the numbers were generally low until recently when we have seen an up-surge in local transmission.
Almost each day, Malawians return home from foreign nations. How best returnees should be managed, on one hand respecting their rights, versus, the pandemic which requires certain strict measures to be contained.
This new challenge is that government and partners did not envisage a large number of returnees in a short period of time. Government and partners are doing all they can and also working with countries to ensure a smooth and coordinated manner of handling returnees.
The UN, especially through the International Organisation for Migration [IOM], is fully involved to ensure that human rights are being upheld. The question of institutional vs self-quarantine has been discussed over and over again and it was resolved that looking at available resources and the numbers of returnees coming per day, self-quarantine for people that will be negative and self-isolation for people that will be positive with no or mild symptoms would be the best option. The media has a critical role to disseminate the importance of adhering to quarantine as stipulated.
What immediate steps are needed to ensure that transmissions are contained eventually halting spread of the virus?
The immediate steps are that everyone should take a role; starting with individuals, the media, traditional leaders, people in the community, partners, non-governmental organizations [NGOs], civil society, religious bodies, politicians, government.
The doubling in local transmission is a call for everyone to take part. It’s a call for solidarity.
The media has an important role to play; in making sure that it is disseminating the right information from government and WHO, and not spreading rumours and misinformation. The MoH Facebook page and the WHO website are places where the media can access up- to- date information.
Additionally, all community members have a role to play in following the current advice from the government. Everyone should take preventive measures and follow the government’s advice on hand hygiene, physical distancing, not being in crowded public places, minimise non-essential travel and using cloth masks whenever they are out in public.
Lastly, the government is leading and has already scaled up the response in partnership with the UN, traditional leaders, the community, NGOs, religious organisations. It is maintaining and deploying an expanded capacity to identify positive cases in the community. It has expanded lab testing capabilities with 41 testing sites and is ensuring the tracing of the contacts of all confirmed cases and that confirmed cases are in self-isolation.
What advice do you have to the new leadership, coming in after the June 23 elections, in relation to the Covid-19 pandemic?
WHO remains cognizant that health services can be overwhelmed and people can fail to access health care because all the attention will be on Covid-19. Continuation of essential health services is paramount, and these essential services consist of maternal and newborn care, child health and immunisation, nutrition, elderly care, sexual and reproductive health, mental health, HIV, TB, sexually transmitted diseases, malaria and non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and lung disease.
These are the set of diseases with the highest death rates for people who get infected with Covid-19.WHO provides technical support is all these areas. The health workforce must also be supported with PPEs and with continuous training on Covid-19 preventive measures both for themselves and for the patients they see. Furthermore, WHO supports Government with the purchase of laboratory supplies noting that they are a very necessary component of the Covid-19 response.
What kind of engagement has WHO had, or plans to have with the new government on the pandemic
WHO is the technical lead for health matters in the broader UN Country Team. In terms of high-level Government engagement, WHO co-chairs the Health Cluster committee which provides oversight to nine sub-committees.
Strengthening the multi-sectoral response plan which is being implemented with different sectors taking their role, there is government coordination by the Presidential Task Force on Covid-19, clusters and sub-technical committees, funding and resource mobilisation and continue to motivate for other key areas that require further efforts such as reliable oxygen supplies at central hospitals. There is no definite treatment for Covid-19 but oxygen has been found to be a critical life-saver for people with the disease. n