With funding from the Government of Ireland, UNICEF Malawi supported the Ministry of Health in improving COVID-19 testing. The boost included the provision of vital chemicals, training of five officers in South Africa, information technology such as four computers and software, and physical skills-sharing meetings for a better understanding of the virus' genetic material. The support might include some international exchange visits.
“Since 2020, the Government of Ireland has provided US$ 2,183,176 to the Ministry of Health through UNICEF for COVID-19 response in Malawi. The valuable support has made a direct impact on the lives of thousands of Malawians,” explains UNICEF Health Specialist, Mesfin Senbete.
Dr Mvula also adds that, "The support was timely because genome sequencing helps us understand the genetic material of the coronavirus to figure out how it has changed from the first one detected in 2019. This helps us warn the public health system to recommend necessary changes in how the nation is fighting or treating COVID-19.”
The demanding process is exciting to the scientists who churn out new science that shapes the national and global response, including vaccine experiments.
"Before the COVID-19 pandemic was confirmed in Malawi, we never thought of doing genome sequencing in the country. We had few trained scientists, but we lacked basic equipment and needed to train more personnel on the bench to do sequencing effectively. We thank the government and our partners for building our capacity so that the nation can better respond to the pandemic," he says.
As COVID-19 prevention required everyone to avoid crowded settings, some scientists learned new skills online while others went abroad to hone their vital know-how.
"The support from partners has changed how we test for COVID-19. We needed this support because the equipment, reagents, and training are expensive and not locally available," Dr. Mvula states.
Since sequencing started amid the third wave, scientists have detected the Delta and Omicron variants.
"When we detect a variant of concern or interest, we alert the Ministry of Health so that the country can quickly step up preventive measures, treatment, and immunisation," says Moses Chitenje, the understudy of Mvula.