Older people feel Covid brunt
By Jack McBrams, contributor:
When news broke that Covid-19 had knocked on Malawi’s door, older people were gripped by fear.
The fear was justified as the public health messages emphasised that those with underlying health challenges such as diabetes and hypertension were at higher risk of contracting the virus.
Agness Patrick Kaziwo, a 63-year-old Blantyre Chemusa resident, recalls that the messages sent a chill down her spine.
“I was affected by the information singling out those of us with diabetes or hypertension that had a lower chance of survival if infected by Covid,” Kaziwo says.
She adds that amidst the fear, she tried to observe the Covid prevention guidelines.
“We were advised by the health workers to wear face masks, not to sit too close to people, and wash hands frequently with soap, among other guidelines,” she says.
Her fellow septuagenarian Ignatius David Mpaha explains that older people became more anxious as some prevention guidelines were not conducive for low-income neighbourhood dwellers with physically-demanding household routines.
“The masks, for instance, were making it difficult for us to breathe,” he says.
Mpaha, a retired telegraph operator with Malawi Postal Corporation, says older people also suffered economic setbacks as the pandemic brought new business modes.
He cited rising prices triggered by the restricted movement of people as one cause for their suffering, as their static incomes could not catch up with the fluid prices.
“Even those of us on a pension did not receive much, and the rising prices made it difficult for us to cope,” Mpaha says.
On her part, Kaziwo, who sells second-hand clothes or farm produce depending on the season, says she saw her capital diminish because it was taking too long for her to sell her stock. This situation, she says, led to lower profits.
“Prices of goods went up, and in some cases, prices doubled. This meant that those of us with little capital either closed shop or fell into debt as we tried to keep our businesses afloat,” she says.
Mpaha, who is also a member of Chemusa Elderly Support Group in Blantyre, said the 1,250-strong group lost two members.
Malawi Network of Older Persons Organisations (Manepo) Programmes Technical Lead Goodwell Thunga said his organisation knows the Covid related challenges that older people face.
Manepo is working with Unicef on a targeted vaccination campaign for older persons. The programme is being implemented in two components.
“Firstly, we have demand creation intervention to provide the correct information. On this one, we have a ceremony where opinion leaders get vaccinated to help change the public perception.
“Secondly, we conduct door-to-door vaccination to reach out to older people who may fail to get to the hospital,” Thunga explains.
So far, the programme has been rolled out in Zomba, Balaka and Machinga.
“We are registering great success. In Zomba, for instance, we just targeted two health facilities, but we could vaccinate over 1,000 older people in just two weeks,” he explains.
Unicef Malawi’s Health Specialist, Dr Ghanashyam Sethy, says that conducting door-to-door vaccination is one of the strategies that Unicef is using to reach as many people as possible with the vaccine.
“Unicef will continue to support the effective rollout of Covid vaccination across the country through innovative strategies, integrating with primary healthcare services.
“Our plan aims to prioritise vaccinating high-risk groups and integrate Covid vaccination into routine immunisation to strengthen health systems and ensure the continuity of essential services,” Sethy says.
With funding from the United States Agency for International Development, Unicef supports Covid vaccination activities in 29 districts.
The interventions aim at accelerating the widespread use and equitable access to and delivery of safe and effective Covid vaccinations to minimise the overall impact of the virus.