Malawi Health Equity Network (Mhen) has proposed a ban on the long-held tradition of hand-shaking among people to control the spread of cholera that has killed four people to date.
Mhen executive director George Jobe said in an interview on Monday that hand-shaking is one of the ways that can contribute to the spread of cholera, it was high time government banned the culture to prevent further spread of the disease.
He said: “Considering that cholera cases are increasing in the country, it is high time that we adopt an initiative where government should ban hand-shaking just like our colleagues in Zambia have done.
“I believe if Zambia has achieved to initiate the ban, Malawi can do it too. When shaking hands, we don’t know what the other person was doing. So, I suggest that for the time being we should ban hand-shaking to control the situation.”
But in an interview yesterday, Ministry of Health spokesperson Joshua Malango said the cholera situation in the country has not reached the extent where people should be stopped from shaking hands.
He said government is currently able to contain the disease and prevent further spread.
Said Malango: “The cholera situation currently is not yet that bad as it is in Zambia. Zambia has banned hand shaking because it is a disaster there unlike here in Malawi where we are able to contain it.
“We currently have several interventions that are working now. Yes, we have a cholera outbreak but we have not reached the point of a disaster where we should ban hand shaking or disrupt people’s normal life.”
The ministry further assured Malawians that with the current interventions, the situation will not get out of hand.
In a separate interview, Senior Chief Kachindamoto of the Ngoni in Dedza also dismissed the Mhen proposal, saying hand-shaking is a culture that should not be taken away from Malawians under whatever circumstances.
She said: “We cannot stop hand shaking because this is our culture which we adopted from our forefathers; we believe that hand-shaking is a symbol of love. There are so many other ways we can do to prevent spread of cholera without banning hand shake.
“We should only encourage people to follow good hygiene measures and wash their hands whenever necessary so that we remain safe when shaking hands. Otherwise, initiating a ban on the culture of hand-shaking is not a welcome idea.”
Cholera has hit most parts of Southern African with neighbouring Tanzania registering 4 470 cases and 81 deaths, Zambia 2 600 cases and 48 deaths while Mozambique has registered 1 300 cases.
In Malawi, 16 of the country’s 28 districts are on high alert for cholera, an acute diarrhoeal infection caused by ingestion of food and water contaminated with the bacterium vibrio cholerae.
Ministry of Health statistics show that to date 228 cases in six districts have been recorded with four deaths. n