Dubliner in Malawi helping Irish charity’s response to Covid-19 crisis

by Gazette Reporter
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A DUBLIN aid worker is in Malawi with aid agency Concern Worldwide responding to a devastating rise in COVID-19 cases and deaths as the country also struggles with a critical shortage of medical oxygen.

Concern Malawi’s Programme Director, Suzanne Elder, from Sutton in Dublin is one of 120 staff with the Irish organisation in the southern African nation – which is among the poorest in the world with 71 per cent 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.

Those COVID-19 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.”

Using funding provided by the EU’s Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations Department (ECHO), the Irish charity is providing basic medical equipment, such as blood pressure monitors, stethoscopes, masks, thermometers and nebulisers.

As part of the programme, 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 that are used to deliver oxygen to patients.

This is in addition to the COVID-19 prevention work that Concern has been doing since the start of the pandemic in Malawi where it reached 1.5 million people in 2020, largely through public messaging on ways to stop the spread of the lethal virus.

“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 consider to be spreading much faster than the original coronavirus.   

The country has aimed to curb the spread by putting in place measures including the closure of schools, restricted movements each night from 9pm to 5am and mandatory mask wearing.

Mass vaccinations have yet to begin in Malawi, but its Ministry of Health recently reported that preparations are at an advanced stage for the rollout of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

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