Covid-19 Update: A View From Malawi

As Malawi wrestles with the second wave of Covid 19, likely largely due to the new South African variant, the impact on the country’s few healthcare workers is particularly acute. Access to vaccines is needed now, but is realistically a long way off. 

The South African variant is likely to be 50 percent more transmissible than the original Covid-19 virus. 

Cases began to rise in Malawi in December, when large numbers of Malawian workers returned from South Africa. It is likely that this increase in cases is largely responsible for the current second wave. Almost all of the current cases are now being locally transmitted. 

In the first weeks of January, cases were doubling every 4 to 5 days throughout the country. At the Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital in Blantyre, Medicins Sans Frontiers (MSF) found that the number of patients with severe Covid cases went from 12 to 107 in the first three weeks alone. The maximum Covid capacity at the hospital is 80. 

While the country emerged from the first wave doing relatively well, the current wave is already overwhelming the health system, as reported by MSF and others. At the time of writing, there are 27,422 coronavirus cases and 874 deaths. You can view these stats and more here and here.

M2M Student Elita Mkwezalamba

These numbers may seem low compared to the UK or US, but in one of the poorest countries in the world, even low numbers of cases disastrously impact the health system. The stress of a severe surge in patients needing hospitalization exacerbates existing chronic shortages of health workers, medical supplies and oxygen. An overwhelmed health system could even begin to reverse Malawi’s recent gains in health system strengthening, and have knock on effects like food shortages. (UN.org)

To make matters worse, health staff are becoming ill themselves. 

Nine have already died of the virus, 900 are currently in quarantine, and more than 1200 total health workers have been affected. Of the eight specialists working in the Covid ward at the Queen Elizabeth, only three are left to tend to the Covid cases. The others are off sick. 

In a country where there is only 1 doctor for every 33,000 people, the health system can not afford to lose these critical personnel. 

Duke University found that rich countries with 16 percent of the world’s population have already secured 60 percent of the global vaccine supply. Malawi’s vaccine programme relies on COVAX, the World Health Organization (WHO) initiative to ensure low and middle income countries have access to vaccines. The first round of the AstraZeneca vaccine is meant to arrive by the end of the month, but health personnel are skeptical, fearing administrative delays and lack of vaccine efficacy against the South African variant. 

Covid 19 and Our Student Community

Medic to Medic graduate Dr. Mayamiko Zulu, who works in a private hospital in Blantyre, spent about 25 minutes with M2M CEO Tamsin Lillie to talk about the current wave. They discuss the current numbers, testing capacity, challenges of Covid management, lack of health workers and oxygen, and morale. 

In January we conducted a survey to try to understand the impact Covid 19 has had on the Medic to Medic student community. 

We submitted a short survey to our current student body, as well as our graduate community who are working is health facilities throughout the country. We asked 3 questions:

1) Have you had a Covid-19 test?

2) If yes, did you test positive?

3) Since the start of the pandemic, have you had symptoms of Covid-19 that cannot be attributable to another illness?

We received 88 responses total. 32 responses were from current students, and 56 from our graduate community. 

The majority (66 percent) of current STUDENTS surveyed had not been tested. Of those tested, 3 were positive.

The majority (59 percent) of GRADUATES surveyed had been tested. 11 individuals had tested positive. However, the majority of students surveyed had NOT been tested (66%), of those tested 3 were positive.



Overall, since the start of the pandemic 57% of those surveyed have had symptoms of Covid-19 not attributable to another illness with 28% of these individuals having confirmed Covid-19.

What Can We Do To Help?

Medic to Medic is so proud of the work out students and graduates have done and continue to do to keep their communities safe. We stand with them and pledge support them in every way we can. 

Back in April 2020, M2M provided PPE bundles of scrubs gowns, masks, hats, visors, soap and hand sanitizer to 126 of our graduates to help keep them safe at work. We are now distributing another round of soap and sanitiser to continue to provide support. We hope that this will go some way to empower our community to keep safe as frontline workers.

If you would like to make a donation to support our graduates with PPE, please click the link below and type “PPE” in the free text box.

 www.medictomedic.org.uk/help-us/donate/one-off-donation

Sign the petition for the UK government to donate excess vaccines to poor countries:

https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/565462

SOURCES and FURTHER READING

MSF Report: Covid 19 second wave overwhelms healthcare system

CNN Report: Inside Malawi’s Covid 19 wards, the impact of vaccine nationalism is all too clear

VOA Report: Malawi recruits healthcare workers to combat surge in Covid 19

The Telegraph: Malawi can’t breathe, Lord please hear our cries: South African variant overwhelms hospitals

United Nations Report: Malawi braces for Covid 19

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