Our leader of delegation, Prof. Dr Joyce Befu, MGA (RTD), in consultation with her second in command, Alhajj Mufti Jean-Philippe LePoisson, SC (RTD), and the head of our security, Nganga Maigwaigwa, PSC (RTD), has directed this week we be very precise and brief because the matter at hand is a serious one.
It would appear that Malawi’s approach to serious pandemics remains ostrich-like. The ostrich is probably the largest bird on earth today, a relic of the dinosaur period. It runs very fast to escape from danger and enemies it can see but when it sees a storm approaching it buries its head in the sand, hoping the storm will pass and things will be fine.
Unfortunately, this behaviour can be disastrous. In the early 1980s, the Queen Elisabeth Central Hospital—to be named Bakili Muluzi Central Hospital after May 19 2020— diagnosed the first HIV infection in Malawi, but it took years of ostrich behaviour for the government to acknowledge that we had a problem on our hands.
By the time the government got serious and started warning the population to take care and practice preventive measures, HIV had spread. The consequence of that government, ndadala or ostrich behaviour, are the gravestones you see in burial sites. Millions of young and professional lives lost to HIV and Aids simply because the government delayed in championing the fight against the disease.
Because of our rather archaic and dismal social, health and behaviour change communication approaches, the gains we have made against HIV and Aids are slowly being lost and soon HIV and Aids will be a major health challenge, again. If you don’t believe us listen to young men and women, even old people, challenging that Aids inatha fasho (Aids is no longer a serious health issue). You know what that means, unprotected sexual encounters.
Because ingrained societal and religious attitudes, such as aliyense adzafa or ili mu ufa (everybody will die) and Africans have strong blood, behaviour change is extremely, if not infuriatingly slow, and costly. Strategic social, health and behaviour change communications should never be slowed down, particularly when a health challenge is ongoing. Government should take advantage of the many leading lights in this field. They are scattered in institutions of higher learning in Malawi and in the Diaspora, NGOs and CSOs, and, of course, on this page. Use them.
This time, we have a serious pandemic in our globalised village. What started as an endogenous health problem in China is now a serious health issue that has seen China itself, Europe, North America, Latin America and, steadily, Africa, being shut down as citizens are advised to self-isolate, restrict their movements, and those that are exhibiting symptoms hospitalized.
According to credible news sources such as CNN, Aljazeera and the mighty Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC), corona virus is literary shutting down financial markets worldwide.
World leaders have assumed the responsibility of leading the fight against the corona virus. In China President Xi Jinping, in South Korea, President Moon Jae-in, in the United Kingdom, Prime Boris Johnson, in the USA Ngwazi President Donald Trump, and in Iran, the Supreme Leader himself, Ayatollah Khamenei, are leading the efforts against corona. They regularly, almost daily, address and assure their citizens that something is being done.
Acknowledged, the Malawi government, through the ministry of health, has issued guidelines on how to prevent coronavirus and a short instruction video is now viral on social media. But that is not enough.
It is our appeal that Ooriheya (not Oliheya) President Professor Peter Arthur Mutharika, J.D., should lead the war effort against coronavirus by convening an emergency session of Parliament to approve allocation of financial resources to the cause and, of course, to debate and review the laws he has rejected so that, like Ngwazi Dr Kamuzu Banda, he clears his name and becomes one leader Malawians will reference in future as a promoter of Malawi’s democracy.
Lead Moya. This is your time.