Time to worry about coronavirus in Malawi: Close the borders, test and speak to people

Come, my people, enter your chambers, and shut your doors behind you; hide yourself, as it were, for a little moment, until the indignation is past. — Isaiah 26:20-21 

If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land. — 2 Chronicles 7:14

It’s official, the World Health Organization declares the coronavirus (also known as Covid-19) as a pandemic. While the pandemic has spread mostly in China, Russia, and other southeast countries, Europe, and the Americas, Africa appears to have spots here and there.  The stop the spread draconian measures of China, Singapore, and South Korea, complete with mass tests, mandatory quarantine, however drastic, worked to arrest the spread and level infection rates. But as the virus stops spreading where it started, Africa, which is yet to experience the wildfire spread, appears to be ill-prepared, with a few exceptions.

Malawi vice-president Saulos Chilima exchanging a foot greeting with main opposition MCP president Lazarus Chakwera

The exceptions are Ghana and Kenya, whose presidents this week issued stern and serious special addresses to their respective peoples on the virus and steps the governments there are taking to stop the spread of the virus. In Zimbabwe, President Mnangagwa banned weddings, church gatherings. And in South Africa, paving the way for unity in fighting the virus, 14 SA political parties in the parliament united to combat the coronavirus.

On Thursday morning President Nana Akufo-Addo invited religious leaders to Jubilee Palace for a Prayer Breakfast, where he quoted liberally from the bible.

Malawi is yet to hear from President Mutharika, who this week used a press briefing to announce his refusal to assent to four Parliamentary Bills that normalize the re-run of the May 21, 2019 elections and introduced a 24-member cabinet, without a Vice President.

On his part, Malawi State Vice President Saulos Chilima took time to warn the people that gathered at Njamba Park rally over the weekend, calling for precautions, with messages published in Malawi media, among these avoiding handshakes; but the president of the Medical Society of Malawi Dr. Amos Nyaka expressed in a press release that it is too early to ban large public gatherings.  This is because there has been no person that has tested positive for the virus.

Meanwhile, although the President has yet to address Malawians on the issue thereby give leadership in the battle, the Government through the Ministry of Health continues to issue daily updates on the virus. Among these was the list of 14 countries whose travelers will be placed in a 14-day quarantine. These are China, Italy, UK, USA, Germany, Republic of Korea, France, Spain, Japan, Switzerland, and others. Thus far, Malawi has since January 31, 2020, quarantined 443 people, 158 have been discharged, and only 12 were asymptomatic. But Zambia next door announced its first coronavirus case.

The government has also instituted the following measures: continue screening of travelers in all points of entry; provide media updates of current global and local situation; radio jingles on COVID-19; press release; private sector engagement; dissemination of information through social media (MoH Facebook page : https://www.facebook.com/malawimoh); respond to rumors and misinformation to counteract infodemic; continuous media engagement; work towards upgrading the local laboratory capacity to test COVI-19; weekly technical committee meetings to update strategies as new knowledge comes to light; and work to establish a toll-free line for inquiries (0887 37 12 88).

In the United States, the first case of the coronavirus was reported on January 20, 2020. the government led by its leadership waivered, opinioned, downplayed it an today there are over 8,000 cases and 150 deaths in US; numerous states have taken matters in their own hands and instituted blanket quarantines in “go home and stay home” advice has caused the US government to pass legislation that will put money in the pockets of Americans who are experiencing hardships because of the pandemic. Additionally, this past week, the US reluctantly and partially closed its borders and entry from a number of countries.

However, there is no countrywide testing in the US like in the Republic of Korea, no swift response from the top either; and now the virus is in every state. Nonetheless, locally, New Rochelle leads the way with drive-in testing, even though the universal testing model of China and Korea or Singapore has not rolled out.

NY State Governor Andrew Cuomo requested the federal government, in the face of hospitals being overwhelmed, to deploy the army corps of engineers to build hospitals, as NYC Mayor Bill De Blasio used executive powers to ban all elective surgeries. The city has 923 cases, with 159 hospitalized, 68 in ICU.

The stern advice to older persons is to stay at home or away from sick people. The US economy is in quasi-close mode. But hey, the US can afford this, including alleviating the economic hardship that its taxpayers are going through by putting a monetary check into every taxpayer pocket. Malawi and most of Africa cannot.

Malawi and Africa, cannot, must not, and should not take the pandemic with business as usual — everybody is reeling and bleeding from the pandemic. It has hit everybody, including the big development aid fat cats (China, the US, the UK, Germany, France, Italy, Singapore, Japan, Australia, Russia, In a Times Television Ndirande spot interview, a hundred percent of respondents said the government should close the borders.

The Chinese government suppressed the movement of its people; Korean the government conducted daily tests of 10,000 people; and in both countries, infection growth leveled and have dropped drastically with China reporting no new infection on Wednesday.

Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus this week said “The simple message for all countries is the test, test, test, and test of all people suspected to have the virus, and also those they have been in contact in the past two days before symptoms started.”

Other advisories are isolating all who might be positive and provide personal protective equipment for health workers.

To President Mutharika and Vice President Chilima, you cannot, must not, and should not let the coronavirus management be piecemeal or be conducted disjointedly. Malawi and Africa must take serious steps to stop the spread of the virus. The continent does not have the capacity to respond and mitigate the effects of the full force of the pandemic on its peoples or the countries.

“These are not ordinary times, they are extraordinary, and need extraordinary measures,” said US Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell.

For Malawi and the rest of Africa, this could mean closing the borders of the continent and between states, closing schools, using the army corps to renovate disused schools as quarantine centers, banning large gatherings and promoting social distancing, advising people against handshaking.

These are measures Asian countries took that has leveled infection rates.

Good news coming out from down under country, Australia, is that science researchers can comfortably reveal that two already internationally approved and used drugs used for anti-malaria and HIV, have successfully cured the coronavirus in clinical trials of group of patients.

These drugs are the chloroquine medication used for malaria, and the retro novia used in HIV patients.

“We’re not on a flat foot, we can sort of move ahead very rapidly with enrolling Australians in this trial,” said an enthusiastic Professor David Paterson, an infectious disease physician at the Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital.

It’s time for us to think outside the box about the coronavirus!

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Peter
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Peter

Say to President….Vice president alikukachaso adziwa chan?

kanjedza
Guest
kanjedza

Dear President of Medical Society- why dont you have a tour with the health ministry and check if everything is in place at the airports and borders

Do they have thermometers, have the officials at these locations been educated . Your society has so much funds, ca you not donate a few thermometers. Or ask the Chinese emabssy to donate a few.

Do the officals at these border ports wear mask so that they do not get infected?

Please put in a effort. Who knows who is going to be the next victim, it could be you or me

Maiye
Guest
Maiye

This rumour we heard I heard too on social media and TVs but if infected would prefer to meet the nurse or doctor for their suggestions on how to be treated.

Charity
Guest
Charity

Its imperative not to write on health issues whe n one has no experience of virology. This is misleading in many ways.
Drug trials are not approved drugs , and what proof do you have when you mention anti retroviral drugs the are more than 50 anti retroviral drugs this is misleading . And many other health related points in here are not accurate.

OmMW91
Guest
OmMW91

This is a very well written piece. Thank you. I wish there was a way to get this message to hit home more broadly. It is a very dangerous illness and people need to safeguard early!

Doc
Guest

Wina akufunika akawadzutse a muthalika. Ali mtulo kulota mmene angakakamilire u president. Pano tikusowa leadership to proactively deal with the Corona virus. Akamange mphaka beru ndani? Mai Karim mwina.

Angoni apaphata
Guest
Angoni apaphata

While we are busy appointing new generals everyday. How many generals does Malawi have bythe way and for how big an army?

KimK
Guest
KimK

Army yake yolanda makala ku dzalanyama ndi zimene amadziwa

Mbulumbuzi
Guest
Mbulumbuzi

Thank you Madam Janet Karim for this article. I am one of the Malawians who is living in Asia with my family. Looking at what the president and all relevant organisations are doing to stop the virus; one can conclude that the leadership in Malawi is still sleeping. May God help Malawi.

Patrick
Guest

Wow,i guess one you’ll to come home and meet the sleeping leadership

Phwisa
Guest
Phwisa

But does Malawi have drugs for this disease?

Ida
Guest
Ida

If we can’t have Panadol in our hospitals do u expect us to have drugs for this pandemic?

Kevlan
Guest
Kevlan

Its the only way.