Year ender: Recounting the COVID-19 ravages

COVID19 ward at Queen Elizabeth Central hospital

Malawi was hit so hard by the global COVID-19 pandemic evidenced by the number of infections and deaths which saw the country losing prominent figures in society.

The pandemic reared its ugly head during the start of the year prompting President Lazarus Chakwera to declare a state of national disaster effective 12th January, and appealed for assistance from all stakeholders for resources to go towards the Coronavirus response.

He made the call in line with Section 32 subsection one of Disaster Preparedness and Relief Act of 1991 and directed that all support and donations should be sent to the office of the Commissioner of Disaster Affairs.

In his address to the nation, Chakwera described the surge in number of COVID-19 cases as the darkest hour in the nation’s history.

He described the deaths of two high ranking government officials former Transport Minister Sidik Mia and Local Government Minister Lingson Belekanyama earlier as an incalculable loss whose grief cannot be measured.

Following the sad incident, he ordered all national flags fly at high mast, called for an emergency meeting of the Presidential Taskforce to explore additional measures to be immediately effected to establish a method of declaring the severity to guide public awareness and behavior.

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The late Sidik Mia with President Chakwera

Acknowledging the people’s fear and helplessness with levels of pain and anguish, he assured that the country had what it takes not just to survive but defeat the virus.

“We have what it takes not just to survive this but defeat it. It’s no accident that God chose us for such a time as this. We must rise together and adhere to the COVID-19 guidelines. We can do it and must do it”.

The faith community was not spared either as on 14th January, former Assemblies of God President Reverend Dr. Edward Chitsonga succumbed to the pandemic which was later followed by the death of Bishop Charles Tsukuluza another charismatic teacher of the word

In her tribute, the General Secretary Pastor Matilda Matabwa spoke of fond memories of the departed Reverend.

“We can’t forget Dr. Chitsonga. He was our President for about the past seven years until 2019.We have known him as someone who was passionate about revival in the movement in Malawi Assemblies of God. He was a father to everyone; he was a humble person, passionate about soul winning.”

On 21st January, Lilongwe Word Alive Assembly Pastor Reverend Patrick Semphere who was also Chairperson of the Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC) passed on.

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Succumbed to COVID-19: Reverend Patrick Semphere

As if this was not enough, on 27 January, the National Assembly lost two legislators Jacqueline Chikuta Malawi Congress Party parliamentarian for Ntchisi North and John Chikalimba who represented Zomba Changalume in the house.

A statement from the Speaker of the Malawi Parliament Catherine Gotani Hara announced the deaths.

More sad news came on 13th July following the death of Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) parliamentarian for Nkhotakota North East Martha Chanjo-Lunji, at Kamuzu Central Hospital in Lilongwe.

At the time of her death, she was serving as a member of the Public Accounts (PAC) and Media Committees of Parliament and Chief Whip for the DPP.

Since the first wave, the house has lost nine of its members to the pandemic.

The nation was also robbed of former Chief Justice Lovemore Munlo and Ernest Kantchentche Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Information through the pandemic.

It was not all gloom and doom as along the way, there was some good news with some who contracted the virus recovering giving hope there is life after COVID-19 after all.

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Justice Kachale: Overcame COVID-19 and shared his recovery story

On 28th January, Malawi Electoral Commission Chairperson Justice Chifundo Kachale a COVID-19 survivor shared his recovery story offering hope on how he overcame the grief of losing loved ones and friends in the midst of his own diagnosis.

During the same period, he was also nursing a sick grandparent under his household where he was recovering, together with his 8-year-old son who tested positive but was asymptomatic.

To say one related with the pain and anguish he experienced, would be an understatement as Justice Kachale also lost both his brother Benjamin and his wife Futhi in South Africa.

“This double funeral marks the culmination of the most distressing 10 days I have so far known in my rather brief sojourn on earth.

 “With the help of God alone, I have recently had to carry the heavy burden of having to be the strong one when everyone is so heartbroken (but I have also witnessed the fortitude of others in the face of loss, from which I have drawn great inspiration to endure my own grief” he lamented

Ordinarily, burial arrangements involve several family members and friends who coordinate their efforts even as they share the grief, but the COVID-19 situation rendered such coordination untenable.

“While the requirement to conduct the funeral hurriedly may give rise to many conflicting emotions and leave one feeling that may be our beloved have not received a fitting and proper dignity, the urgency of such brisk measures only goes to underscore the severity of the crisis Covid has brought into our lives,” wrote Kachale.

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A file footage of a funeral of COVID-19 death 

Through his write-up, the High court judge hoped some might find encouragement as they too sought to process their own emotional, medical, philosophical and theological turmoil.

Kachale, a Pastor at Word Alive Ministries, explained that rather than focusing on trying to comprehend on such gloom and distress, denounce God in the process and walk away from the truth, he chose a different path altogether to place his full confidence in Him alone.

”I have and continue to bear considerable emotional pain from this scourge: but in the midst of all the confusion, I choose hope! My hope is not some make-belief delusion that chooses to bury my head in the sand and pretend nothing bad is happening.

“Rather I have hope that there is a God who will sustain me even through this storm! I may not explain what is going on; but on the authority of His Word and the reality of my lived experiences, I have confidence in His capacity for compassion and comfort right in the depth of our sufferings.”

All the three speakers of the National Assembly were not spared from the disease which first attacked Madalitso Kazombo first deputy speaker, then Second deputy speaker Aisha Mambo Adams.

On 25th February, Gotani-Hara tested positive to the virus and later on 9th March, tested negative but was asymptomatic.

In a letter she authored, she expressed eternal gratitude for her recovery where among others; she applauded the National Assembly, medical doctors and staff, the media fraternity, traditional leaders, her constituents in Mzimba North East and members of the clergy for their love and support.

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Recovered from COVID-19: Catherine Gotani-Hara

“The last two weeks have been incredibly challenging but they were made easier by your good will, prayers and constant check-ups.

“Although I was in isolation, I felt the comforting presence of everyone. I wish I could thank everyone in person, but a huge thank you to: The President Dr. Chakwera, the Vice President Dr. Saulos Chilima, Former president Dr. Joyce Banda, the Chief Justice His Lordship Andrew Nyirenda SC, Deputy Speakers, Leader of the House, Cabinet Ministers and Deputies Leader of Opposition,” she wrote.

On 5th March this year, Malawi finally got its first batch of AstraZeneca vaccines from COVAX facility; a move viewed as an unprecedented global effort to ensure equitable access to the shots and a critical step in bringing the pandemic to an end.

UNICEF coordinated and supported the procurement, international freight and delivery of the injections for the COVAX facility globally and government together with other development partners witnessed the historic arrival at the Kamuzu International Airport.

UNICEF Malawi Country Representative Rudolf Schwenk, stressed on the need to ensure the vaccines are affordable and accessible to all countries all around the world, and that people from less wealthy countries should be left behind in the efforts to be protected.

“At UNICEF, we are fully committed to making this happen. The 360,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine represent part of the first allocation of COVID-19 vaccines headed to several low and middle-income countries.

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A historic moment as government and partners welcomed Malawi's first COVID-19 vaccine consignment in this file footage

“Malawi has been allocated 1,260,000 doses of this vaccine, and the remaining quantities will be delivered in the next few months. These shipments represent the beginning of what will be the largest vaccine procurement and supply operation in history” he stated

Schwenk reiterated his organization’s commitment to supporting the vaccination campaign and containing the spread of the virus, in close cooperation with all partners, including World Health Organization, the Vaccine alliance Gavi and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI)

”Vaccines save lives. And this vaccine delivery is a major achievement. But ultimately, vaccines will only protect us if they are effectively delivered to the population.

”I am very much looking forward to seeing health workers and other front-line staff getting vaccinated in the coming weeks, which will be the first step towards a gradual return to normalcy for all of us” said the UNICEF Representative.

Health Minister Khumbize Chiponda cautioned the arrival of the injections should not lead to complacency in adherence to the preventive guidelines.

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Timely intervention: A COVID-19 batch  

Rather she pointed out it should present every reason for Malawians to ensure the country does not slide in a COVID-19 health crisis.

She described the consignment as a window which should offer hope to Malawians on lives returning to normalcy

United Nations Resident Coordinator Maria Jose Torres was upbeat the vaccine will go a long way in saving lives.

“We are extremely pleased to see that Malawi is the tenth country in Africa receiving the COVAX vaccine, so you should be proud because that’s sticking to the good work that health authorities have done to get the roll out plan ready as you know this is 20 percent of the total population of Malawi.

“This is the first batch and is intended to provide the vaccination for the health care workers that as you know are the ones in the frontline and have been suffering most in terms of infections.”   

Malawi is now experiencing its fourth wave of the pandemic.