When COVID-19 Arrived in Rural Malawi

The Threat Approaching

Orant Charities Africa began preparing for coronavirus as soon as it caught word about the spread, but for a while the threat seemed far from home. Malawi was one of the last African countries to announce a case of coronavirus. Even then, its cases were contained to major cities like Lilongwe. Since Orant’s campus is more rural, its community felt safer and farther from the virus. 

In July, the threat moved closer. One of Orant’s staff members started to feel unwell. For about a week, he suffered body fatigue, but no cough. The team assumed symptoms indicated malaria, but malaria tests came back negative. Orant asked the government to assist in coronavirus testing, and on July 23rd, the results came back. 

“To see him test positive was a bit of a blow,” said Gabriel Kapanda, Country Director of Orant. “Almost everyone was in contact with him.” 

Soon after, one other staff member tested positive. Both staff members self-quarantined in their campus houses, and took home remedies like ginger, fruits, and vitamins. Orant provided them with groceries, supplies, and support. Since they didn’t leave their respective houses, Orant hoped they wouldn’t spread the virus further. Luckily, they didn’t. 

Orant invited a fumigation and disinfection specialist to thoroughly clean the campus with chlorine. Clinicians took a week off from seeing patients. Kapanda expressed concern about how cases like this might affect campus operations. The people in the Dowa District rely on Kasese Health Center to treat their medical needs. 


A Larger Impact

The threat of coronavirus on campus doesn’t only affect operations, it also affects the budget. The government of Malawi is short on tests, which means organizations like Orant must buy tests from private centers. One test costs 50,000 kwacha, which is about $70 US dollars. If the virus were to spread farther in Orant’s catchment area, the cost of testing could consume a significant amount of money intended for other vital programs.  

Orant implemented clinic shifts to keep all employees from working at the same time. In addition, Orant encouraged employees to refrain from socializing outside of work. On campus, protections had been in place for a while, but after positive test results, they felt more imperative than ever. All employees and patients were and are required to wear masks. Until September 1st, Orant cancelled mobile clinics and limited agricultural visits. Still now, though things are slowly returning back to a new normal, whatever business can be done remotely will be. 

Remote work was a shift in the norm for Orant, as the majority of staff live on campus. Staff was used to seeing each other frequently and being involved in each other’s lives and work. The team has adapted to the situation, limited social contact, and communicated through emails and phones as much as possible. 

Since July, no more of Orant’s staff has fallen ill. 

“We thank God that he’s keeping us safe,” said Kapanda. “No one has died from Covid-19 in our catchment area and we’re still assisting patients. Our donors have been very supportive during this time, and we’re grateful that they have shared what little they have.” 

Learn more about OCA’s plan to fight coronavirus here.

Stories From The Field