A Boost in Malawi’s Fight Against COVID-19: USAID ONSE Project Hands Over Refurbished Isolation Center to Government
Story by Rejoice Phiri, Communications Manager, ONSE Health Activity
When the WHO declared the coronavirus outbreak a public health emergency, many Malawians remained unconcerned. Despite the broadcast of infection prevention messages encouraging people to wash their hands frequently with soap and water, community members were heard to ask: “why should we waste soap when we only wash when getting ready to eat a meal?” However, attitudes changed on April 2nd when the first case of coronavirus was confirmed in the capital city of Lilongwe. Many started wondering if the country was prepared to respond to the pandemic. Community members were afraid they couldn’t be tested, and if there were suspected or positive cases, the country had only two isolation centers in the capital to house patients, and temporary isolation centers at the district level, equipped to treat only mild cases.
The USAID ONSE project, led by Management Sciences for Health, worked with Malawi’s Ministry of Health and Population to rapidly mobilize renovations of an unused health facility in Lilongwe’s Kamuzu Central Hospital as an isolation and treatment center for infectious disease patients. For 21 days, builders worked day and night to ensure that this was done in record time, as the outbreak had begun to grow from a few isolated cases in the capital, to other urban and rural communities across the country.
Finally, in the late afternoon on April 15th, ONSE program staff handed the keys of the completed isolation center over to the administrators of Kamuzu hospital. The 20-bed center includes a screening room; an Intensive Care Unit with ventilators; male, female, and pediatric wards; and toilets and showers.
ONSE’s support also contributed to general improvements to the facility including electrical, plumbing, carpentry, welding, and painting. Photo credit: Rejoice Phiri/MSH
Benson Hara, a resident of Lilongwe commented, “Every time I passed this place I would see workers busy working day and night. When someone told me that the isolation center is finally ready, I was relieved. I was afraid seeing the rising numbers of cases in the country and hearing that we did not have an identified center yet for patients, but seeing this gives me hope.”
The ONSE program, with USAID assistance, is supporting the government’s rapid response activities to address the coronavirus outbreak. At the health facility level, this includes improving the capacity of healthcare workers to establish systems for triage of suspected cases and implement appropriate infection prevention and control protocols and guidance, such as the use of personal protective equipment, disinfection, and waste management. The isolation unit and health centers across Malawi stand better prepared to receive and care for patients with COVID-19, while protecting health care workers from infection, and allowing essential health services to continue.