More than 10,000 most affected and at high risk women, girls and their families have been served during the pandemic with cash assistance, food aid, radio awareness, phone calls, hygiene kits, WhatsApp groups and more.
On April 3, the World Health Organization reported the first cases of COVID-19 in Malawi. The country has since seen an increase in the number of cases and recorded its first COVID-19 related deaths. In an effort to curb the spread of the virus, the Government of Malawi has issued a mandatory lockdown, which goes into effect on April 18.
In Malawi, one of the world’s poorest countries in GDP per capita, the pre-existing humanitarian situation poses significant risks—more than one million children are orphaned by HIV/AIDS and more than 50% of the population lives below the poverty line, with 25% living in extreme poverty. Currently, a mere 20 people a day can be tested for COVID-19, and there are only 25 intensive care unit beds and seven ventilators in a country of more than 18 million people. Access to quality, routine healthcare in Malawi is often difficult or impossible, even in the best of times. The devastation COVID-19 could wreak on Malawi’s fragile health system and economically vulnerable population is extremely concerning.
The accompanying panic, however, had already spread far and wide. Without any reliable information available, false narratives and dangerous speculations started to take hold of the community at Dzaleka Refugee Camp. The SOFERES team, who have been living and working in the settlement for years, knew that the community was not prepared for a crisis of this scale and it would only get worse once they started running out of essential resources. The pandemic will worsen ongoing issues like hunger, extreme poverty, overcrowding, and Gender Based Violence. It would be devastating for the refugees who lived there, and the women and girls will end up bearing the brunt of it.
With assistance from Women First, we implemented an expansive crisis response. We ensured that all women and girls in our community received essential supplies and food aid as well as cash assistance for themselves and their families. By protecting women and girls, who are often the primary caregivers and the ones most prone to infectious diseases, we were able to make the community more resilient against the pandemic. Next, we undertook the immense challenge of dispelling all the misinformation and educating the community on the actual risks and remedies for COVID-19 through Radio awareness, phone call, distribution of information posters, leaflets, etc. It was a massive effort, but with Women First’s support and donations received from individuals, we were able to develop an effective strategy to reach thousands of refugees with information that was reliable, and often lifesaving.