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Taming Covid through community approaches

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NO FACEMASK NO ENTRY—Roadblock leading to Chamama Trading Centre

By Bettie Chumbu:

July 14 2021 was not an ordinary day for people of Traditional Authority (T/A) Wimbe in Kasungu District. Waking up to reports that the area had registered 218 Covid cases disturbed their peace.

“When I heard the news on the radio, I was shocked. Of course, that week, our area registered many cases of death but we had no clue as to what the cause was because most of the people had died at home without being tested for coronavirus,” Group Village Head Msola laments.

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Development Communications Trust (DCT), a sub grantee of FHI360— using funds from United States Agency for International Development—proposed a collective solution to the challenge under its two-month project on Covid prevention and Covid vaccine demand-creation being implemented in 10 districts including Kasungu.

Through the initiative, DCT is using several strategies, including risk communication and community engagement approach, and this has proved to be one of the effective ways of helping people adhere to Covid regulations, including the mandatory wearing of facemasks.

“After DCT was approached by district-level stakeholders to help raise awareness in T/A Wimbe’s area, The first step we did was to carry out community engagement meetings with key influencers to inform them about the new Covid measures. This was one way of making them understand why they, as leaders, are supposed to take a lead in enforcing what the government is advocating in the fight against the pandemic,” says programme coordinator Edina Nguku.

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On July 7 2021, the Government of Malawi, through Health Minister Khumbize Kandodo Chiponda, announced measures pertaining to level 3 of Covid response. They affected such areas as public gatherings, travel and transport, workplace, hospitality and recreation business.

Nguku notes that non-adherence to the promoted preventive measures is one of the factors fuelling coronavirus infections in T/A Wimbe’s area, necessitating the need to enforce the measures at community level.

Strategically, DCT engaged traditional, faith and block leaders, decentralised structures, teachers, healthcare workers and community policing forum members to find a lasting solution to the challenges.

“Indeed, DCT made us aware of our roles and responsibilities in helping the government enforce Covid Level 3 measures and this prompted us to come up with local arrangements to enforce the measures.

“Currently, we have instituted four roadblocks in main pathways leading to Chamama Trading Centre. Those found not wearing facemasks are not allowed entry into the market place. People are also given a chance to buy facemasks at the point of entry into the trading centre,” says Chamama Trading Centre Chairperson, Ajabu Mpalume.

Kazunguzeni Banda, Secretary for Covid Compliance Committee, which was instituted after engagement meetings, adds that the measures are also applied at funerals.

“We have also set a rule that, by 9am, all burial arrangements should be completed, no cooking be done during funerals and that no more than 10 people be allowed in a closed room,” Banda says.

Concurring with others is Group Village Head Msola, who lauds efforts aimed at promoting Covid preventative measures’ adherence.

“Adherence to the measures has resulted in a remarkable reduction in Covid cases in my area and, indeed, other areas,” he says.

The leaders are operating under the slogan ‘Mzika Yozindikila Imavala Mask Kufuna Kupewa Covid’, loosely translated as ‘civilised citizens wear facemasks to prevent coronavirus infection’.

“The use of force in enforcing laws and regulations does not always work; other less threatening means do,” Msola adds.

So effective have the measures become that Chamama Police Unit Officer-in-Charge Pickson Chikabadwa says law enforcers are facing no challenge in enforcing Covid regulations.

This means Chamama Trading Centre, which is situated some 45 kilometres from Kasungu Boma, has become one of the Covid-aware areas in Malawi.

This means the over 5,000 people who flock to the trading centre on any given day can be at ease.

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