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Fighting the invisible enemy

Dzaleka Health Centre is a small hospital that lies at the heart of Dzaleka Refugee Camp located roughly 50 kilometres from Malawi’s capital Lilongwe. According to United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the health centre caters for over 70,000 individuals within and around the refugee camp. The majority of these individuals – 62 percent – are Malawians surrounding the camp. Due to the vast number of people that the hospital serves, the health centre usually experiences an obvious challenge – shortage of essential drugs. For instance, just recently, the medical personnel at the hospital disclosed that they ran out of anaesthetics which is a vital medication, especially in the labour ward. The shortage of drugs and medication at the hospital, which – besides the host community – serves a growing population of 46,000 refugees crammed on a tiny piece of land initially designed to accommodate 10,000 people, poses a threat.

Although Dzaleka Refugee Camp has not yet registered any covid-19 case, imagine the worst that could happen if the refugee camp was hit by coronavirus. Dzaleka has exceeded its absorption capacity by over 300 percent. Overpopulation in the camp, coupled with poor sanitation caused by congestion put both the refugee camp and Dzaleka Health Centre on the fast lane to imminent catastrophe.

“This caused a lot of concern and called for us to be fully prepared for this pandemic,” said Henok Ochalla, Senior Protection Officer for UNHCR Malawi. Henok explained that UNHCR reached out to its partners within and outside Malawi to assist in improving the capacity of Dzaleka Health Centre in preparedness for COVID-19. There is Hope shared UNHCR’s concern and we took a stand, more so because we were one of the organizations heavily affected by the pandemic. When Malawi was declared to be in a state of national disaster, the government ordered all educational institutions to be closed.

“We work in the educational sector and when schools closed we did not want to stand aside and watch from a distance,” our Executive Director, Innocent Magambi said, adding “We wanted to support the government in the covid19 battle and we reached out to our friends in Canada and the US.” This saw us approaching our long-term partner the International Association for Refugees (IAFR) US and Canada to help us in sourcing medical supplies for Dzaleka Health Centre.

Soon, our cry for help was heard. With the support from Health Partners International of Canada (HPIC), IAFR assisted us to secure a consignment of essential medication value at over 81,000 Canadian Dollars (approximately $60,000 or MK44 million). The medical supplies weigh an estimated 258KG. They consist of 23 boxes containing vital drugs such as analgesics, antibiotics, hypertensives, Hydrochlorothiazide and protective gear. The medication arrived in Malawi mid-May 2020 and was officially handed over to UNHCR and the Ministry of Health.

We expect the medical items to help the small clinic in Dzaleka Camp to serve the population within and around Dzaleka in this dangerous era of COVID-19.

“We are fighting an invisible enemy and There is Hope has been part and parcel of this journey from the beginning. This donation will bridge a lot of gaps in terms of our supplies of essential drugs,” Ochalla from UNHCR said. It is a journey that began when the first cases of COVID-19 hit the planet and a journey which accelerated when the cases bounced into Malawi in April 2020. As There is Hope, we are taking a stand to support the communities we have been serving for a decade.

We have empowered these communities by providing food packs to new arrivals in Dzaleka Refugee Camp as well as sanitation facilities and cotton face masks to the refugees and the host community. World Health Organization declared that “COVID-19 could be here to stay…” and we are here to fight the invisible enemy.