It is 11 o’clock in the morning and Innocent Mabedi, a tricycle-taxi operator just outside Kamuzu Central Hospital (KCH), has already seen enough.
As the next group of mourners leaves the KCH Isolation Centre, Mabedi scratches his head in shock.
“This should be the fifth funeral today only, if I am not mistaken. People are dying. The end is nigh,” Mabedi says, shaking his head.
A few kilometres away, at Area 18 cemetery, an excavator is busy digging up graves. Lilongwe City Council (LCC) is overwhelmed.
The council, which manages the cemetery, can no longer use human grave diggers at the rate people are dying. A machine is more effective and handy in the situation.
“We know that we need to do things differently as funerals have to wait for a long time to be assisted,” says LCC Chief Executive Officer, John Chome.
Elsewhere in the world, scientists are busy in laboratories searching for a possible cure of the virus which has also shaken the global economy and led to massive job losses.
They are fully aware that in every misfortune, there is an opportunity and that the discovery of a possible cure or vaccine could generate millions of dollars for them and their economies.
Head of Research in the Ministry of Health, Dr Collins Mitambo, says the country encourages its citizens as well as researchers to come up with solutions to various challenges, including those in the health sector.
Mitambo says stakeholders have a responsibility to generate medical research, including the Ministry of Health, which has a research department.
He adds that the academia is also responsible for generating research evidence. He cites College of Medicine (COM), Kamuzu College of Nursing and Malawi University of Science and Technology as some of the institutions mandated to carry out medical research.
Mitambo says the country has the capacity to conduct research on various medical related issues.
“Some of the challenges that we face are due to the fact that we don’t have adequate resources for conducting research. For instance, we don’t have much capacity to generate vaccines and develop drugs. It is because of the resources that are pumped into such areas,” Mitambo says.
Dean of Postgraduate Studies and Research at COM, Dr Fanuel Lampiao, believes the responsibility of medical research on cures for new diseases lies in the hands of higher education institutions, research centres and the private sector such as pharmaceutical companies.
He is, however, quick to note that research is an expensive endeavour that requires a lot of financing.
According to Lampiao, Malawi has the capacity to conduct research on possible cures of diseases, including Covid-19 but that what is lacking most of the times is funding.
“As a country, we need to strive to come up with home-grown solutions. Research is business; it brings resources apart from putting the country on the map. We need to prioritise research by allocating enough funding to enable researchers look for solutions to different problems,” Lampiao says.
He further discloses that on Covid, College of Medicine is conducting research especially with herbal medicines that some quarters claim cure the virus.
“We are conducting toxicity and efficacy studies using animal models. You can’t go straight and experiment in humans. We have a number of concoctions that we got from traditional healers that we are investigating,” Lampiao says.
Society of Medical Doctors President Dr Victor Mithi echoed concerns that the money government invests in medical research is not enough to allow advanced types of research.
On his part, Parliamentary Committee on Health Chairperson, Dr Matthews Ngwale says his committee would support innovative ideas among Malawians through lobbying for increased funding.
He said it is the wish of the committee to see to it that government significantly cuts the amount of money spent on foreign referrals by making sure that most of the treatment is done locally.
Herbal juice maker, Teras, says there is need to create a good working relationship among industry players, researchers and government.
Teras Marketing Manager, Ronald Amos, says authorities need not to trash local discoveries before they are given a listening ear.
Amos says the reception herbal producers get sometimes makes one think that the authorities already have a preconceived opinion that nothing big will ever come from Malawi.
“As herbal producers, we believe Malawi can be a solution to so many challenges including Covid. For example, since the first wave, we have had people who recovered from serious symptoms of Covid.
“We tried to have a formal test of the product on Covid patients with authorities but it seems there is no way through. We believe our product would be a solution if it was given a chance to undergo relevant trials,” Amos says.
The million dollar question then remains: Are our doctors only trained to prescribe painkillers such as Panado and anti-malarials such as lumefantrine-artemether?
Yet, the truth is that as we drag our feet on the pursuit of solutions to the coronavirus— waiting on others to shove their discoveries our way—Malawians continue to lose lives to the scourge on sickbeds in isolation centres and homes.