Written by CorpsAfrica/Malawi Volunteer Mr. Chiukepo Mwenechanya
It all started as a rumour and others joked about it. Well, reality has caught up with Malawi. Those were some of my thoughts as I played over and over a video clip circulating on social media from the presidential press briefing on the three Coronavirus cases in Lilongwe, Malawi. Until the 2nd of April 2020, Malawi had no confirmed cases of Coronavirus. Even though others argued that maybe we didn’t have the capacity to detect cases it still stood, no cases. As of 2 April 2020, Coronavirus has affected over 896,450 people with 45,526 deaths worldwide in just four months (WHO, Situation Report #73). These numbers are expected to rise exponentially if we do not take part in sharing and adhering to coronavirus preventive measures.
Coronavirus is not news across the globe, at least I thought but I was surprised to learn at my first Coronavirus awareness meeting in my community that other people did not know of its existence. Out of 39 attendees, only four were familiar with the name…I mean just the name Coronavirus. I paused for a second trying to take in that hard fact. I knew that there was a lot said about the virus in the media and I thought again, maybe they got the question wrong. I hoped at least everyone did listen to the radio and own a smartphone with WhatsApp, but I was wrong. Not even half of the attendees listen to radio and over three quarters of the people had no phones. At that point, I bet some of the attendees noticed the worries and fear in me.
I had questions to which the answers did drain the life out of me. Is Malawi ready to handle the virus? Are Malawians ready to follow Coronavirus preventive measures? Will my community be able to protect itself from the outbreak? My fear worsened when I recalled the many illegal migration patterns between my community and South Africa where they already had confirmed Coronavirus cases. Some senses hit me at the end and I asked myself another set of questions. Whose responsibility is it to sensitize our communities about Coronavirus? We call ourselves agents of change while our communities are still in the dark about the deadly virus, which experts have assured us that it can be contained with a little nudge of information. This made me think about those rural communities where there are no CorpsAfrica Volunteers and with communication blackouts. Who are we waiting for to save our communities from the virus? Does it require someone to be a professional health worker to share this important information on Coronavirus? We are part of these communities and it is our responsibility to help and equip our communities with necessary knowledge on how to prevent Coronavirus. Yes, we can serve our communities and save lives.
I do believe I have played my part and I will continue working with my community to make sure that everyone has the right information and is a part of the preventive mechanism. After several Coronavirus awareness meetings with my community, I am happy with how my community has responded to the outbreak. It is now a subject of talk in the streets, homes and market places. Some community members visit my place to seek information. These days I no longer organize Coronavirus awareness meetings, rather I am called to community meetings organised by community leaders in various villages to share information on Coronavirus. Interesting as it sounds, but some community members have even started to think that maybe I have worked as a health worker before. People are expressing fear and discomfort giving handshakes, they are making estimations about their distance apart when talking and encouraging each other to wash hands with soap. I do believe that sharing this vital information is key in preventing the spread of Coronavirus. I do not think it will cost us anything to share with our friends, loved ones and community members on how to prevent the coronavirus. Trust me we can save many lives in our communities.