A makeshift hospital in Malawi has opened as hospitals are overwhelmed by the influx of coronavirus patients.
In Malawi’s second-largest city Blantyre health workers are under pressure and having to work in tents.
“Our available resources, especially in terms of oxygen, are insufficient. We have to ask people to buy the equipment,” said Maziko Matemba Community health activist.
“However, as economic activity slows down, people have no money. And they have almost no way to pay for health expenses.”
Malawi was relatively unscathed by the virus outbreak in 2020 but now faces a new, fast-spreading wave of the disease
The NGO Doctors without borders responded to calls by health authorities in Blantyre.
“We are preparing a plan B, in case the hospital is no longer able to take care of patients,” said Athel Loiseau, coordinator of Doctors Without Borders.
Malawi like all countries in southern Africa is facing a sharp increase in the number of coronavirus cases and the more contagious South African variant is spreading.
To date, nearly 25,000 cases have been recorded since the start of the pandemic, but it is especially since January that the number of infections has increased exponentially.
Doctors Without Borders says it is also concerned over the high number of cases among nursing staff, which weakens the already precarious health system.
“Currently, there are over 1,300 Malawian health workers affected by Covid-19, plus all the people around them who are in quarantine. It is a crippling part of the health system, not just for them. Departments where we treat patients with Covid-19, but also for the health system in general, for all patients in this country, ” said Marion Pechayre, MSF Head of Mission in Malawi.
While millions of people and healthcare workers are being vaccinated in wealthier countries, it’s not the case for Malawi and other African nations.
South Africa’s president Cyril Ramaphosa has pleaded for a fairer distribution of vaccines and urged countries to stop hoarding
“Rich countries around the world keep vaccines to themselves. So we say, ‘make available the surplus vaccines that you have ordered and stored,” Ramaphosa has said.
On Wednesday, Doctors Without Borders made the same plea in a tweet. The NGO insists on the need to give priority to health workers,.
“In countries like Malawi, to cover all the health workers, it would suffice to immunize between 20,000 and 30,000 people in the country. So it’s more than affordable,” said Pechayre.
Across the continent, nearly 100,000 people have died after being infected with COVID-19.
But specialists suggest those numbers may be higher especially in rural areas, where testing is sparse.