Frontline medical workers under Lilongwe District Health Office say they are afraid of proceeding with testing of suspected cases of coronavirus in Lilongwe’s Kaliyeka Township, following a dispute over results that were recently announced.
For the last two days, the medical staff have not been to Kaliyeka because of what they describe as “growing hostile environment”, ignited by comments from some political leaders who questioned the authenticity of Covid-19 results.
On Thursday, Minister of Health Jappie Mhango announced 10 new Covid-19 cases in Kaliyeka, which came on top of five others announced a day earlier.
But a number of people in the area, who include Lilongwe City South West legislator Ulemu Msungama and Kaliyeka ward councillor Richard Banda, who is also deputy mayor of Lilongwe, doubted the authenticity of the results and questioned the manner in which the whole process was conducted.
Msungama posted on Facebook—expressing his reservation —a post that has attracted a lot of comments and was shared in a number of social media platforms, leading to what medical staff are calling “a volatile situation” in what has become a Covid-19 hotspot—Kaliyeka.
“Before his post, there was no problem but now we cannot be trusted. And if we do not gain community trust, we cannot do our job as required.
“With the negative perception people have against us, we can easily be attacked. I would have loved to have the MP retract his post,” said one of the medical personnel working in Kaliyeka.
Yesterday Lilongwe City Council (LCC) invited relevant stakeholders, who included the district health officer (DHO), Malawi Defence Force (MDF), police and the city’s MPs—Msungama, Alfred Jiya and Nancy Tembo—to find a way forward on the Kaliyeka issue, where medical staff are supposed to collect blood samples and trace contacts of those suspected to have interacted with positive cases.
During the meeting, which turned emotional and personal at some point, DHO Alinafe Mbewe put her foot down that she will not allow her staff to go to Kaliyeka without assurance of security.
Apart from security, Mbewe demanded that Msungama either clarifies his earlier post or goes back to Kaliyeka to convince his constituents that the results are a true reflection of the situation on the ground.
She repeatedly emphasised on the need to allow health professionals to do their job without undue influence as demonstrated in the Kaliyeka case.
Msungama and other MPs asked the health authorities to always inform those that have been tested positive before releasing the results to the general public, which they suspect was the case in Kaliyeka.
“After receiving the information from the Ministry of Health that 10 people had been infected, I immediately picked it up because Kaliyeka is part of my constituency…I don’t treat these issues as political, all I want is honesty.
“How could the ministerial team announce results before even the team which took samples is not aware,” said Msungama.
But the DHO said there is need for people, including the political leadership, to understand the procedure on how results are shared. She said it is disheartening that people, without seeking right information, are rushing to question the results.
After hours of deliberation, Lilongwe City mayor Juliana Kaduya said lessons have been learnt and what is important is that all stakeholders should move forward as one in the interest of the people.
After the meeting, the mayor called for a press briefing where they agreed to preach a message of solidarity, regardless of their earlier misunderstanding.
One by one, the legislators, including Msungama and Banda, who questioned the results, said a word of advice to residents of the city to follow precautionary measures to contain the spread of the virus.
“Covid-19 sees no face. It does not matter your political party, tribe, creed, age or social status; we are all at risk; hence, let’s do what is right to protect ourselves from the deadly virus,” said Msungama.
Even with this statement some of the medical workers and those that Nation on Sunday spoke to in confidence, the feeling was that the MP should have simply apologised for provoking the situation.
While Msungama appeared remorseful, he did not seem ready to say sorry for he equally believes that the Ministry of Health ought to improve on dissemination of information.
For two days now—there is no work in Kaliyeka and the DHO admitted, in an interview after the meeting, that the workload had increased.
Asked if they were now going back to work, Mbewe said: “We need to hear from the police first and then we can make a decision. We have lost out on time. I really wished we did not have this break, but we also need to ensure safety of staff.”
She said it will make a huge difference to have the MP and the councillor go back to the community for clarification or better still accompany health workers to minimise on the threat of attack.
MDF Commander for Land Forces Brigadier Elias Mpaso said he was particularly concerned that the absence of health workers in Kaliyeka puts many lives at risk, including his soldiers who live in this area for its proximity to Kamuzu Barracks. He said as a precautionary measure, the soldiers in Kaliyeka have been advised to stay home and follow medical guidelines.