Up to now, most people in rural areas in Malawi do not look at the Covid-19 pandemic as a serious threat to their lives. To them, the contagion is just like any other disease which will go without even being noticed in their location.
Their lifestyles remain the same. Weddings, funerals and other social gatherings are going on with preventive measures such as hand-washing bluntly being ignored.
They look at the coronavirus as a disease for the well-off; households in urban locations’ high walls, who frequently travel outside the country.
“We have heard about the coronavirus but we have established that it is very difficult to prevent it. Most of us are poor and we have never travelled outside the country where many people are suffering from the disease. We believe in our rural areas, we are safe,” says 67-year-old Mailosi Kaposa from Kachenga Village in Balaka District.
It is a prevalent belief in Sub-Traditional Authority (STA) Kachenga and other areas in the district which is further compounded by lack of awareness on how the marauding virus spreads and how it can be prevented.
The belief that the disease is for the urban rich overlooks the fact that it is the elderly, who are largely found in rural areas, and other already vulnerable populations that are at most risk.
Thus, as local transmissions rise, behavioural change among people in rural areas needs to be enhanced as a way of containing the spread of the virus.
As of yesterday, Malawi had registered at least 550 cases.
And concerned with lack of knowledge on the pandemic in most rural areas, a Balaka-based faith organisation, Kasupe Ministries, recently launched a K300 million Covid-19 response initiative in the district.
Executive Director Fletcher Padoko says as an organisation which is operating in Balaka and surrounding districts, they feel obliged to take part in joining other stakeholders in helping local people to stay safe from the virus.
Padoko says it is a concern that most people in rural areas lack knowledge regarding the spread of the virus, which puts them at risk of contracting and spreading unknowingly.
“Because of the pandemic, we have been inspired to come up with the Covid-19 response in which we have sourced about K300 million from our partners in the United States of America. We want to reach to health centres in rural areas as well as people who are poor but are prone to the pandemic,” he says.
Padoko says through the programme, Kasupe Ministries is distributing hand-washing materials such as buckets, basins, stands and soap to households in STA Kachenga in Balaka.
The organisation is also supporting health centres in Balaka with personal protective equipment such as masks.
“We have noted that most of the interventions by various stakeholders are targeting health centres and other institutions in urban areas. However, Malawi has a lot of needy people who cannot afford a bucket of water for hand-washing. Through this initiative, we expect to fill that gap so that we can improve sanitation and hygiene at household level,” he says.
Apart from households, Padoko indicates that each village head has been earmarked to receive hand-washing materials to be placed outside their homes so that people coming to present various issues to them are also protected through washing hands.
“We are approaching the Covid-19 fight holistically. Health centres in Balaka and Mangochi will be assisted with medical supplies which will help them reach to people in hard-to-reach areas. Our target is the ultra poor Malawians who are at risk of the virus due to poverty and lack of knowledge,” he says.
Kasupe has also engaged some personnel who are going door to door to monitor how each household is enforcing Covid-19 preventive measures.
Balaka District Hospital Senior Nursing Officer Faliot Nkwapatu describes as timely the intervention by Kasupe especially looking at how Covid-19 pandemic is spreading in the country.
Nkwapatu says Kasupe Ministries is the first organisation to distribute such items at household level in the district, which he says will help to make the people more aware of the pandemic.
“This is a great initiative and as a hospital, we are happy that we have partners who are responding to the Covid-19 at household level. Our district is big but we do not have enough resources to cater for the entire population with Covid-19 response,” he says.
Nkwapat u u rges o ther organisations to emulate what Kasupe Ministries has done, saying that leaving everything in the hands of the government will make the fight against Covid-19 difficult.
On her part, Sister Rita Mbalure who is in charge of Kapire Health Centre, which serves people from both Mangochi and Balaka, commends Kasupe Ministries for initiating the Covid-19 response programme which is also benefiting the facility in its service delivery.
Mbalure says Kapire Health Centre faces a lot of financial challenges which are limiting their efforts to sensitise the community to the Covid-19 pandemic.
“It is the same with people in most villages who are failing to buy Covid-19 related medical items because at the moment they are becoming expensive every day. Hence, the coming of Kasupe will greatly help us and the people around here,” she says.
Group Village Head Kapire from Traditional Authority Chilipa in Mangochi commends Kasupe for thinking of creating Covid-19 awareness among locals who he said are poor and cannot manage materials such as those to do with hand-washing.
“As a community leader, I am very happy to see Kasupe reaching most rural areas with such items. We are very happy because the items will also help people to prevent the spread of the virus,” Kapire says.