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GUARDIANS IN THE BULLSEYE

Lilongwe, Malawi … “While warnings about Covid-19 are widely heard in jingles and public health announcements in cities like Blantyre and Lilongwe, they have barely reached the remote rural areas where nearly 90% of Malawi’s population live and farm, and few people have access to TV, radio or electricity,” says Patrick Kamzitu, a health worker in central Malawi.

“We fear that it will come. If it does, it will overwhelm us, and be worse than cholera, which we had badly in 2013, and hunger in 2002. People will die in large numbers,” he reports for The Guardian News Service.

One of the areas most vulnerable to the virus relates to family care while the patient is in the hospital. Malawi government hospitals are unable to supply sufficient staff and supplies to properly feed and care for the patient.  For this reason, family members must fill the gap. When the patient leaves for the hospital, family members, friends, or church members go with them. For the duration of the patient’s time in the hospital, these people remain nearby, cooking meals on the hospital grounds, providing and cleaning bed linens, blankets, cooking utensils, and any other items needed by the patient. After washing, the items are spread around the hospital grounds to dry. The family moves in and out of the hospital, as the needs of the patient change and evolve. When medical wards are filled with patients, the grounds around the hospital are crammed with family members waiting for the next visiting period to enter and care for their family members. 

These guardians are extending the patient care that would normally be handled through the medical and support staff in western nations. While visits in western hospitals can be controlled during disease outbreaks, this is impossible in Malawi because of the necessity for family members to function as guardians or caregivers. The very system meant to give patient care and safety may prove to put millions at risk of getting the very disease they are guarding against.

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