Point of entries play their part in preventing the spread of COVID-19

COVID-19 measures in Malawi

By Sellina Kainja
Sylvester Mwakikunga, a volunteer disinfecting vehicles at Songwe border in Karonga
UNICEF Malawi/2020/Malumbo Simwaka
06 October 2020

In the midst of the sweltering heat and the intersecting of people and vehicles at Songwe border in northern Malawi, Wongani Mtambo, who plies his trade between Kasumulu in Tanzania and Karonga in Malawi, stands in a queue leading to a handwashing facility put in place for COVID-19 measures.

While others in the queue are visibly agitated and demand to be cleared quickly, Mtambo patiently waits his turn to wash hands, after which he will join another queue where Malawi Red Cross (MRC) volunteer, Brains Chisi, will measure his body temperature using an infrared thermometer.

Just as Mtambo moves into the second queue to have his temperature taken, an oil tanker pulls up at the border gate. Sylvester Mwakikunga, another MRC volunteer, rushes to pick up a sprayer and signals the driver of the truck to stop. They exchange a few words before he proceeds to disinfect the exterior of the vehicle, thereafter the gate is opened to let the vehicle through.

The driver is given a health clearance form and instructed to stop by the border health office for further COVID-19 screening before proceeding to immigration and Malawi Revenue Authority (MRA) clearance points.

“I fully understand why we need to be screened, wash our hands with soap and have our details recorded. Since I conduct my business between Malawi and Tanzania, I may not know if I have come into contact with the Coronavirus. The cars that I transport are handled by many people and you can’t write out the possibility of one of them having COVID-19,” explains Mtambo, “that is why I always oblige and follow all protocols. It is for my benefit and other people”.

Brains Chisi,  a volunteer screening travelers as they enter Malawi from Tanzania
UNICEF Malawi/2020/Malumbo Simwaka
Brains Chisi, a volunteer screening travelers as they enter Malawi from Tanzania

The role of volunteers in COVID-19 response

Chisi is one of eight Malawi Red Cross volunteers who were trained with support from the Government of Ireland and UNICEF to respond to COVID-19.

“Everyone has a role to play to prevent and contain COVID-19. I want to do more for my community and country. I take the work I do here seriously,” he explains.

Health surveillance assistants (HSAs) and MRC volunteers were trained on disseminating information on COVID-19 through door-to-door activities while observing physical distancing, and teaching communities to wash their hands with soap regularly and wear face masks properly. During door-to-door activities, they also sensitize communities using information, education, and communication (IEC) materials such as posters.

At the point of entry, the volunteers ensure that everyone entering the country is screened and their personal details recorded; all vehicles are disinfected at the gate. The information captured at the border is shared with the Karonga District Health Office (DHO) for case management and contact tracing. MRC volunteers record vehicle license plates as well as the number of people who have been screened on a daily basis.

Anyone found with a high temperature is detained for at least 20 minutes; if the following temperature check is still high, they are referred to the port health office for further screening.

Support from development partners

The support from development partners has been imperative in the country's COVID-19 response efforts. The Government of Ireland provided Euros 500,000 (over 440,000,000 Malawi Kwachas)  to UNICEF to support the Ministry of Health with COVID-19 response in Mangochi and Karonga districts. In Karonga, this support includes surveillance activities such as point of entry screening at Songwe border, contact tracing, case management, as well as training of HSAs and MRC volunteers. Personal protective equipment (PPE) was also provided for the Emergency Treatment Unit in the district.

 “Karonga is one of many high-traffic points of entry into Malawi from Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda. It is vital that the district is well-equipped to implement COVID-19 measures in order to ensure that the virus does not spread to other parts of the country,” says UNICEF Emergency Health Specialist, David Matseketse.