Dedza, Malawi … They sit outside, usually on the ground, hour after hour, day after day, in the rain, the sunshine, the cold, and when it is hot. They are the guardians. They accompany the patient to the hospital and care for them throughout their stay.
There are too few nurses.
There are too few linens.
There is no food preparation.
It is up to the guardians, usually family members, neighbors, or friends to tend to every need the patient has while they are in the hospital. If the patient is there for a day, the guardian is there for the day. If they are there for a month, the guardian cares for them for the entire month.
While the group of guardians seem disconnected, and occupied with their own respective worlds, they are actually very well organized. They vote a chairperson and an assistant chairperson to help handle any complaints or needs they have with the hospital staff or administration. If the patient leaves to go home, so does the chairperson. The group comes together to select another officer.
They are at nearly every hospital in the nation. Without them the patient would have no food, no linens, no care behind the bare basics. Their lives back home are on hold for as long as it takes to care for and return the patient to their village. They are a critical part of the medical network that cares for hundreds of thousands of patients a day, all over Malawi. They are the guardians.
Pictured are a group of guardians at a district hospital south of the capital.