Lack of Covid-19 protective kits worries Immigration officers

Department of Immigration and Citizenship Services officers working in Malawi’s border posts risk contracting the deadly coronavirus (Covid-19) as they work without protective gears.

Spot-checks by The Nation in some border posts of  Bua in Nkhotakota, Biliwili in Ntcheu, Mbilima in Chitipa, Mqocha in Mzimba, Marka in Nsanje, Nayuchi in Machinga and Chiponde in Mangochi revealed that Immigration officers there are working without protective gear such as facemasks and gloves, exposing them to the threat of Covid-19.

A medical practitioner screens Mhango of coronavirus

Immigration Department spokesperson Joseph Chauwa in an interview on Wednesday confirmed that most officers in the country’s border posts have no protective wear.

He attributed the situation to shortage of resources. 

Chauwa said the department requested Ministry of Health for gloves and facemasks, among other protective gear, but the ministry did not provide enough for all border posts.

He said: “So what we did was to distribute

[the few supplies]

to airports and main border posts like Mwanza, Mchinji, Dedza and Songwe. So, yes, for now the protective gear are not adequate, but we are still engaging well-wishers to support us and also looking at how we can procure some  on our own.”

Chauwa acknowledged that the situation is putting their officers at risk, but said the department has implemented preventive measures to avoid infection among officers.

“We have suspended collecting of fingerprints. The only data we are capturing now are details of passports and passport-size. The fingerprints are very important, but looking at the situation now, we had to suspend that,” he explained. 

An immigration officer at Chiponde, who spoke on condition of anonymity, expressed fear of contracting coronavirus, whose cases have been confirmed in neighbouring Zambia, Tanzania and South Africa.

He claimed the situation has forced most officers to abscond from duties. 

In a separate interview, Malawi Revenue Authority (MRA) spokesperson Steve Kapoloma said the tax authority started distributing protective gear to its customs officers last week and it is also holding sensitisation meetings with staff on Covid-19.

Meanwhile, health rights activist George Jobe has warned that protection of health workers and those handling people in the country’s borders is important, saying anyone coming into the country should be considered a Covid-19 threat.

Jobe, who is also Malawi Health Equity Network (Mhen) executive director, said immigration officers need protective gears to protect themselves first, before protecting the country.

The deadly coronavirus has so far infected over 400 000 people and killed about 13 000 people globally.

So far, Covid-19 has spread to 44 African countries, including neighbouring Tanzania and Zambia as well as main regional trading partner South Africa. Malawi is yet to have a confirmed case. n

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