Concern Worldwide responds to new devastating Covid-19 wave in Malawi where oxygen supplies are running out

Concern employee Judith Cent distributing soap in Malawi.
Concern employee Judith Cent distributing soap in Malawi.

International aid organisation Concern Worldwide is responding to a devastating new rise in Covid-19 cases and deaths in Malawi, where there is a critical shortage of medical oxygen.

Concern said 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 – is struggling to cope, with cases up by over 300 per cent and deaths by 400 per cent since the start of the year.

“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 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, handwashing facilities and masks in communities and in schools,” added Yousaf, who leads a team of 120 Concern staff in Malawi.

“Radio jingles, public campaigns and speakers on moving vehicles playing Covid-19 safety messages have also been a huge part of our ongoing response.”

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.

Yousaf Jogezai - Concern Malawi Country Director

After experiencing a low number of cases in 2020, Malawi saw them rise from 6,684 on January 1 to 29,181 by February 16 and deaths have risen by 400 per cent from 192 to 958. (as of February 16)

Those Covid-19 deaths include two government cabinet ministers who died last month when a national emergency was also declared amid the sudden spike in infections.

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.   

The country has aimed to curb the spread by putting in place measures including in the closure of schools, restricted movement 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 in March this year.

For media queries, please contact Hannah Myerson, Senior Communications Officer, on [email protected]

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