Results from a South African laboratory have confirmed that the 37-year-old man
who died at Karonga District Hospital last week did not succumb to Ebola, allaying fears that the deadly disease has hit the country.
In an interview yesterday, Ministry of Health and Population chief of health services Charles Mwansambo confirmed the development, saying findings by National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) in South Africa vindicates the ministry’s position that the Karonga case was not Ebola.
“We did take samples and indeed the test has come
back negative for Ebola. That is good news for Malawi and that is what we have been telling people that we put all our energy together to make sure that we protect the nation,” he said.
On why the tests were done in South Africa, Mwansambo said it was meant for confirmation purposes as a second opinion, insisting that Malawi has the necessary equipment for Ebola cases.
He said: “The nature of the disease is that you need to work with colleagues. So, we may have the tests here, but you still need confirmatory tests in a recognised laboratory.
“For Malawi, we have the necessary tests, but for confirmation, you need to send it to a central lab that is recognised by the World Health Organisation.
“What I mean is that there are points of care tests, but we need more definitive tests like that in South Africa where we sent the sample to. We have capacity to collect samples, safely and forward them onto the next level to confirm or tell us that it is negative.”
On Sunday, fears that the 37-year-old had died of Ebola forced Karonga District Council to allocate a place for burial at its cemetery after the deceased’s family refused to get the body from Karonga District Hospital mortuary.
The deceased, who spent much of his lifetime at James
Village, Traditional Authority Kilipula in Karonga but was originally from
Mzimba, died last week Tuesday after succumbing to what hospital officials said was sepsis.
He was buried around 7pm on Sunday during a ceremony attended by few relatives, hospital officials and Malawi Police Service officers.
K a r o n g a d i s t r i c t commissioner (DC) Paul Kalilombe said the body stayed six days in the mortuary, and the deceased’s relatives were reluctant to collect it.
He further said that when his he relations from Mzimba went to Karonga, they stated that he had spent many years in Kaporo and married there; hence, he needed to be buried that side.
“But those from Kaporo [the family of the deceased’s
wife] said traditionally, the deceased only married there and they could not, therefore, accept such responsibility,” said Kalilombe.
He stressed the need for massive civic education in the border district to enlighten people on Ebola.
On his part, Ministry of Health spokesperson Joshua Malango said the deceased was buried late at night because members of his family insisted on doing so due to cultural beliefs.
“This case was very well handled by Karonga team. The family requested support for burial, but the request was only in late afternoon. Take note that the deceased family was from Mzimba and had to travel all the way to Karonga. They were very few and requested the council to support them with the burial. Nothing to hide,” he said.
Wo r l d H e a l t h Organisation (WHO) country representative Nonhlanhla Rosemary Dlamini said the institution is part of a technical working team and are convinced of progress being made in preventing Ebola.
She said: “The country has adopted and customised the guidelines for Malawi. You will notice when you get our guidelines that we are in that high state of alertness and preparedness and we have a coordinating body so that we are all keeping each other abreast of what is happening.”
Reports of the suspected case came after Dlamini said there was no apparatus at Songwe Border in Karonga that can be used to expedite Ebola cases detection in the wake of fears that neighbouring Tanzania was at high risk of the disease due to the outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
Dlamini indicated that the border preparatory set up left a lot to be desired as so many apparatus were yet to be put in place despite huge Ebola fears.
During the Songwe Border inspection, Minister of Health and Population Jappie Mhango directed Karonga District Health Office to improve the state of preparedness for Ebola at the border before the end of this week.
According to a document on activities aimed at preventing Ebola, initiatives implemented so far include training of 715 health workers in Chitipa, Karonga, Mzuzu, Nkhata Bay, Lilongwe, Mchinji, Dedza, and Blantyre districts.
At least six treatment centres are in place in Karonga, Mzuzu Central Hospital, Mchinji, Dedza, Blantyre and Mwanza, but also, Ebola supplies have been procured by Britain’s Department for International Development (DfID) and Unicef, whose distribution has also started.