Malawi is overwhelmed by second wave of COVID-19

COVID-19 in Malawi. After being relatively spared by the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, Malawi is now being swept by a new, fast-spreading wave of the disease that is quickly overwhelming the healthcare system.

In the first few weeks of January 2021, the number of people confirmed with the disease has doubled every four to five days, and while the local capacity is already saturated, access to vaccines is likely a few months away. Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) responded to a call by the health authorities in Blantyre, and launched emergency activities to tackle the exponential increase in the number of severe patients in the area.

Fabrice Weissman, who is a member of the MSF COVID-19 response team in Malawi, describes the situation.

What is the latest update on this new wave of COVID-19 in Malawi?

“The pandemic has been developing at a rapid pace since mid-December.

At that time, the majority of new cases was found among Malawian workers returning from South Africa, while today almost all the new cases are the result of local transmission.

There is a very high probability that the COVID-19 variant 500Y.V2, identified in South Africa, is responsible for this second wave.

According to current scientific knowledge, this variant is 50 per cent more transmissible than the original strain, leading to a quick surge in the number of people needing hospitalisation.

This number has doubled every week since the beginning of January.

If the epidemic in the country follows the same pattern as in South Africa (where the peak of the second wave was reached after nine weeks), we can expect the number of severe patients in need of hospital care to increase unabated up to mid-February”.

Malawi, concern is COVID-19 infection among health workers and patient mortality rate

Fabrice Weissman does not hide his concern about the health conditions of health workers, who are on the front line in the fight against COVID-19: 10 MSF members have tested positive for Covid in the last 10 days.

Another front in the fight against the pandemic concerns the mortality rate of patients, and here MSF is doing its utmost to provide not only medical personnel, but also oxygen and other important hospital equipment.

“But to contain the number of infections and deaths caused by this new wave of the disease, Malawi urgently needs access to vaccination – which unfortunately is unlikely to happen before April 2021, and even then, only for a portion of its people.

By that time, the pandemic might have already peaked, and killed many who could have been protected by vaccination”.

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