Despite deep concerns that the mass political rallies can be potential ground for further spread of Coronavirus Medical Council of Malawi (MCM) chairperson, Professor John Chisi has justified his presence at Sunday’s Tonse Alliance mass political rally, saying COVID-19 suspects and those that are sick do not attend to rallies.
His presence at the mass rally in Lilongwe as president of Umodzi Party, which is in the Tonse Alliance, is under fire by fellow doctors, saying as leader of a supreme health body of the country, he should live by example by adhering to the preventive measures such as observance of social distancing that is being flouted at these political rallies.
It was observed that this is setting very dangerous precedence, saying this could make sense coming from a non-medical politician, not a medical doctor of Chisi’s caliber, who was once a lecturer at the College of Medicine.
One doctor put it candidly: “Let’s just prepare for the likely COVID-19 backlash to come. One can only reasonably postulate that community transmission is well underway and it’s a matter of time till we see clinical repercussions in our health facilities.
But Chisi, in his response to his action’s criticism, retorted: “Listen to what I said with sober minds without emotional outrage…we quarantine everyone who is a suspect. Sick people do not come to rallies.
“The situation is under control as we have 3 deaths and the others are recovering. These are all positives to the profession.”
When asked quizzed further as to why he did not take the opportunity to advise the gathering on importance of observing social distancing measures, Chisi said “that was not possible”.
One doctor reminded Chisi that to “say with certainty that there was no COVID” at Sunday’s rally was not correct because in the past three days there had been mass testing at Limbe Health Centre and on other Blantyre District Health Office (DHO) health workers.
“Seven people so far are positive. These were going to work normally without knowing they had COVID.
“Such people are there in our communities and it will be a bad conclusion to say that just because we have quarantines then there are no cases in the public.
“Then what’s the use of screening? And you don’t even screen [people before attending] rallies!” said the doctor, whom we cannot mention.
Chisi himself agreed to the assertion that one can’t say with certainty that there was no COVID and responded that “the only way to deal with this is to seek legal opinion on political rallies so that security agents can participate in enforcement of by-laws.”
One other doctor asked: “Have you also considered being absent from rallies altogether. It can save your professional credibility if these are the battles you will face.”
But Chisi said “rallies are what politicians do. No rallies no politics”.
Chisi then suggested that maybe there should be more testing to be done and identify those that have recovered to share their experience with the public, using them to advocate for behavioral change.
He was asked by the doctors to make that suggestion at the next political rally because there “it will carry more weight”.
“We look up to you as our ambassador, Prof. You have a special audience than most of us. Use that opportunity to educate the masses.”
He was reminded not to move with the saying ‘when in Rome do what the Romans’ while another advised him that maybe he should always start his political statements with a disclaimer: “that you have put off your medical hat and talk as a politician at the moment so that people shouldn’t take you seriously”.
The doctors are appalled at what the politicians are now doing by hold such mass gatherings yet in the first place they were in the forefront in advocating for the adherence of the preventive measures that government had put in place.
One doctor commented: “but looking at what is happening at the moment, it is difficult really to point a finger at anyone other than our politicians — they know COVID-19 is real and it is here in the country.
“They have all the knowledge of the COVID-19 but still they go ahead and conduct political rallies with large gatherings.
“Our politicians leave a lot to be desired in as far as COVID-19 fight is concerned.”
Chisi joined in by saying maybe the medical doctors missed a chance when the election case was in court, especially after the Constitutional Court ruling and when the matter was appealed for by Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC).
Chisi said he joined politics to being change the country needs, “however, politics like any other system has to be learnt and managed …and eventually we will get there”.
“What I need is your support and understanding. Levels of understanding are a challenge in politics,” he said.
Chisi, who owns Limbe Diagnostics Clinic, quit teaching at College of Medicine and sources says he should also have resigned the Medical Council chairperson.
“Medical Council is a government entity, the supreme health body of the country that licenses doctors and nurses and every health worker to practise in Malawi,” said the source.
“His presence at the rallies yesterday and following the doctors’ condemnation of his actions, clearly demonstrates that this man does not deserve to be chairperson of such a supreme health services body.
“He has been MCM chair for far took long and in my 8 years of health care life, I haven’t seen a new election or appointment apart from him,” said the source.
He added that Chisi seems he does not have any remorse in some of his an unaccepted actions harmful to the country’s health profession but it seems he cannot be impeached since such a post is the Ministry of Health.