Overcoming the myths and fears of COVID in Malawi



Health workers in Malawi worry that misinformation about COVID-19 is preventing patients in urgent need of non-virus related medical care from seeking what could be life-saving treatment.

NEW YORK, USA, May 4, 2021, – / African Media Agency (AMA) / – When Eunice Marorongwe, a senior nurse at a rural Malawi hospital, received a child patient with a serious leg infection , was amazed at how parents could keep her at home for a month, without receiving life-saving treatment.

“It was at lunch time at the end of last year when the 14-year-old girl came to the clinic with her right leg in very bad condition,” she says.

The leg could not be stretched and, from the foot to the knee, it was very bad. It had turned green and was producing a very bad smell.

A tree branch pierced the girl’s right leg, but her parents stayed home; not because they didn’t see the need to rush to the hospital for treatment, but because of the fears and myths surrounding COVID-19.

Festering wound

“When they took her to the hospital, her leg could not be stretched and, from the foot to the knee, she was very bad. It had turned green in color and was producing a very bad smell, ”says Ms Marorongwe, who works at Mangochi District Hospital, about 250 kilometers southeast of Malawi’s capital, Lilongwe.

The girl was admitted after her parents were convinced the hospital could safely treat her.

“I am happy to have helped her, but I am concerned that more people are not coming to the hospital for treatment. The situation worsened with COVID-19 as some are afraid to get tested for COVID-19, while others are misinformed that they would contract COVID-19 and die in hospital, “says the nurse.

Limited access to health services in rural Malawi

© UNICEF A health worker monitors a patient’s temperature at one of the screening sites established in Mangochi with the support of the UN.

Many people in rural Malawi are unable to access health services due to lack of facilities.

In Mangochi, where Eunice Marorongwe cares, some patients walk more than 10 kilometers to the nearest hospital. High transportation costs for trips lasting more than an hour, also hamper many.

“My job is very difficult when patients are very late. Out of every 10 patients I see, three are in very poor condition because they have delayed their arrival at the hospital, ”says Ms Marorongwe.

Saving the Lives of the Rural Poor During COVID-19

Last year, he took on greater responsibility for providing medical care to COVID-19 patients at the hospital’s emergency treatment center, which was established with the support of the United Nations.

WFP / Badre Bahaji The UN has supported information campaigns on COVID-19 in rural areas.

Similar centers were established in several rural hospitals in all 28 districts of Malawi, bringing COVID-19 medical care closer to the rural population, who make up 80% of the population.

Despite the fact that Malawi recorded some 34,000 COVID-19 cases and around 1,150 deaths since the start of the pandemic, Marorongwe believes that emergency treatment centers have saved many lives, where the UN also provided critical supplies, including medicines and oxygen concentrators.

Some of the 32,000 people who have recovered from COVID-19 in Malawi were treated at these centers.

Our emergency treatment center is a life saver. I’m happy to see the patients get better and go home. That makes me feel good.

“Our emergency treatment center is a lifesaver. I’m happy to see the patients get better and go home. That makes me feel good, ”he says.

To strengthen rural health facilities, the UN also equipped 1,800 health workers with COVID-19 training and personal protective equipment (PPE). It has been regularly reaching more than 14 million people with messages that encourage prevention and access to treatment for those who are not feeling well.

A volunteer network of more than 300 community organizations, along with community radio stations, community leaders, a toll-free line, and mobile phone messages sent through a dedicated platform, are used to communicate with people in remote parts of Malawi about the dangers. of COVID-19 and the benefits of vaccination.

According to the UN Resident Coordinator, María José Torres, the highest-ranking UN official in Malawi, without the support, the situation could have been dire for disadvantaged groups.

Leave no one behind

“When it comes to access to healthcare, no one should be left behind,” says Ms. Torres. “Our interventions have ensured that people with disabilities, the young, the elderly, the poor and children can access health care during the pandemic.

Mobile clinics and health surveillance assistants have been providing health services to those living in the most remote parts of the country. “

Malawi’s Minister of Health, Khumbize Chiponda, says that with the support of the UN and its partners, “the Ministry of Health continues to send COVID-19 prevention and control messages to communities. Our laboratory testing and disease surveillance capacity has been increased to analyze more cases across the country. “

© UNICEF / Thoko Chikondi A senior commander of the Malawi Defense Forces is vaccinated against COVID-19.

Beyond the health response, Malawi has also mitigated the socio-economic impact of the pandemic in rural areas.

With UN support, the country kept 2.6 million children learning through radio education programs when schools were closed; maintained essential food and nutrition services for 1.1 million children to prevent and treat malnutrition; provided cash transfers to more than 450,000 ultra-poor people and rescued 720 girls from early marriages.

COVID-19 vaccines supplied by the World Health Organization (WHO)-backed COVAX facility have now made their way to Malawi as well, a development that should make Eunice Marorongwe’s job somewhat easier over time.

Find here updated figures on the spread of the virus and the vaccination campaign in Malawi.

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