AN AID worker with Concern is in Malawi responding to a devastating rise in Covid-19 deaths as the country also struggles with a critical shortage of medical oxygen.
Programme director Suzanne Elder, from Sutton, is one of 120 staff with the Irish organisation in the southern African nation – which is among the poorest in the world with 71% of its 17.5 million population living in poverty.
“We are doing everything we can to help the people of Malawi as cases rise,” she said. “Prevention is our focus and also providing assistance to the health authorities.”
After experiencing a low number of cases in 2020, Malawi saw them rise by over 370 per cent from 6,684 on January 1 to 32,008 by March 2 and deaths by more than 440 per cent from 192 to 1,048.
Coronavirus deaths include two government cabinet ministers who died in January when a national emergency was also declared amid the sudden spike in infections.
“The biggest problem is oxygen supplies in a country with a health system that is already very fragile,” said Concern Malawi country director, Yousaf Jogezai.
“Malawi needs medical oxygen to save lives, but it is extremely hard to get right now with demand so high in many countries.
“Hospitals are also full, short staffed and in need of more equipment. People here are very worried.”
The Irish charity is providing basic medical equipment, such as blood pressure monitors, stethoscopes, masks, thermometers and nebulisers.
Concern is also helping the Malawian health authorities to refill empty oxygen cylinders and plans to provide portable oxygen containers called concentrators, along with a supply of nasal cannula tubes used to deliver oxygen to patients.
“We have been providing soaps, hand sanitisers, chlorine powder, hand washing facilities and masks in communities and in schools,” added Yousaf. “Radio jingles, public campaigns and speakers on moving vehicles playing Covid-19 safety messages have also been a huge part of our ongoing response.”
It is suspected that most of the new cases in Malawi are the South Africa variant, which is spreading throughout the southern part of the continent much faster than the original coronavirus.
Measures in place include the closure of schools, curfews and mandatory mask wearing, while preparations for vaccine rollout are at an advanced stage.