Malawi

  1. Climate crisis and cholera link must be studied - Malawi

    Kevin Keane

    BBC News

    President Lazarus Chakwera speaking to the BBC.
    Image caption: President Lazarus Chakwera is convinced the two are linked

    The president of Malawi has called for more studies into the link between cholera and climate change after the country was hit by record deaths.

    President Lazarus Chakwera told the BBC he did not doubt the link but wanted to be led by more research.

    About 1,000 people are reported to have died in the current outbreak.

    Mr Chakwera said there had been an unprecedented level of water-borne diseases since devastating floods last year which affected much of southern Malawi:

    Quote Message: We've never really had this type of outbreak in over 20 years, and even then, it wasn't at this scale.
    Quote Message: But with all the flooding that took place last year, with water levels rising and with sanitation issues across the country that are dependent on pit latrines for example...
    Quote Message: And all of that being washed into streams and even where you have water pumps - because of those [water] levels, all of a sudden you saw outbreaks of water-borne diseases like cholera in a way that you've never seen before.
    Quote Message: So I would not doubt that all of this could be backed by more research."
  2. More than 1,000 deaths in Malawi cholera outbreak

    Rhoda Odhiambo

    BBC Africa health reporter, Nairobi

    Malawi has recorded more than 1,000 cholera deaths since the outbreak started in March last year.

    This is the highest figure the country has ever recorded for a cholera outbreak.

    There are fears health officials are struggling to contain the outbreak as they are running low on medical supplies including vaccines – most of which were used up last week.

    More than 30,000 infections have been reported in Malawi.

    Most cases and deaths have been recorded in the capital, Lilongwe and Blantyre, where the opening of schools was delayed to control the spread of cholera.

    The widespread cases are linked to the impact of climate change that caused extensive flooding last year and destroyed the country's water and sanitation systems.

    Health Minister Khumbize Chiponda has urged people to use safe water and observe basic hygiene, but very few people have access to safe water and improved sanitation facilities.

    Two weeks ago, the country launched an international appeal asking for medical supplies to contain the outbreak.

    The health ministry has also asked the World Health Organization to assist them in getting 7.6 million doses of cholera vaccines.

    However, with only two manufacturers producing this vaccine and a global cholera outbreak, it’s unlikely that they’ll get them any time soon.

  3. Malawi schools reopen after deadly cholera outbreak

    Rhoda Odhiambo

    BBC Africa health reporter

    Chambwe Primary School in Lilongwe
    Image caption: Schools in the capital remained closed for at least two weeks

    Learning in primary and secondary schools resumes on Tuesday in Malawi's two major cities following a cholera outbreak that killed hundreds of people.

    Schools in the capital, Lilongwe, and the commercial hub, Blantyre, had remained closed for at least two weeks after the Christmas holidays.

    The cholera outbreak began in March last year and has so far killed more than 750 people.

    Infections are still high in Lilongwe and Blantyre.

    Health Minister Khumbize Chiponda said schools now have access to safe water and improved sanitation facilities, which will go a long way in reducing infections reported in schools.

    The minister was optimistic that infections in schools would reduce due to improved sanitation facilities.

    Malawi is among 31 countries globally hardest hit by cholera.

    Last week, the government asked for international assistance as it was running low on medical supplies.

    The widespread cases of cholera in the country are as a result of the aftermath of tropical storm Ana and cyclone Gombe that caused extensive flooding last year and destroyed the country's water and sanitation systems.

  4. Pupils allowed back to school after Malawi cholera outbreak

    Peter Jegwa

    Lilongwe, Malawi

    Cholera
    Image caption: Cholera causes vomiting and a runny stomach

    Malawi authorities say students who were prevented from returning to school at the end of the Christmas holidays due to fears of an escalating cholera outbreak can now return.

    Health Minister Khumbize Chiponda announced in Lilongwe that most schools are now prepared to manage the cholera situation.

    Malawi is facing a devastating outbreak pf the water-borne disease which has so far killed more than 750 people.

    The Presidential Task Force on Covid-19 and Cholera had ordered that schools in the capital, Lilongwe, and the southern commercial city of Blantyre should not open in order to protect learners and students from contracting cholera.

    The decision drew criticism from education rights activists because it only targeted schools in two cities while those in other areas, including some that had also recorded high number of cholera cases, were allowed to open.

    Mr Chiponda has now said that over the past two weeks the task force has been monitoring the situation and is satisfied there is availability of water, handwashing facilities and clean toilets in all schools, hence the decision to order their re-opening.

  5. Malawi police arrest two for banknote cake

    Peter Jegwa

    Lilongwe, Malawi

    500 Malawi Kwacha note
    Image caption: Malawi's Central Bank says printing new bank notes to replace old and damaged ones is costly

    Malawi police have arrested two women in their mid-20s after they used kwacha bank notes as decorations for a cake they had baked and posted it on social media.

    A police spokesman said the pair had posted the image of the cake festooned with 70 500-kwacha notes - worth $35 (£28) on social media as they advertised their cake-making business.

    The accused have not commented on their arrest but police say they will be charged with an offence of “damaging and unlawful use of currency”.

    In the past, Malawi’s central bank has said it incurs huge costs printing new bank notes to replace worn out ones and blamed improper use of bank notes as one of reasons the notes have to be regularly replaced.

    The offence of “damaging and unlawful use of currency” carries a large maximum fine.

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  6. Man linked to Malawi migrant mass grave given bail

    Peter Jegwa

    Lilongwe, Malawi

    The High Court in Malawi has released the stepson of former President Peter Mutharika on bail two months after he was arrested and charged with aggravated human trafficking and murder.

    Tadikila Mafubza has been linked to the deaths of 30 men, believed to be Ethiopian migrants, whose bodies were found in a mass grave in October last year.

    He denies the charges.

    The court on Wednesday ordered Mr Mafubza to pay two million kwacha ($2,000; £1,600), provide two blood related sureties each bonded at $5,000 in assets, and to surrender his passport and all travel documents to the police.

    Mr Mafubza was not present in court when the ruling was made.

    He was also ordered not to contact any witnesses related to the case and report to national police headquarters every Tuesday fortnightly.

    The discovered bodies were found in an unmarked grave in a government forest in the northern district of Mzimba. A post-mortem found that they had died of suffocation.

    Police arrested Mr Mafubza because they allege his car was used to transport the 30 men. A man said to have been the driver was also detained.

    Malawi is grappling with the problem of organised syndicates trafficking men, women and children to South Africa, the US and Europe.

  7. Malawi seeks support over deadly cholera outbreak

    Malawi's government has made an appeal for support to help fight a cholera outbreak that has so far killed hundreds of people.

    The outbreak began in March 2022 but has become acute lately. It has spread to nearly all of Malawi's 28 districts.

    In a statement, the government appealed for support in medical supplies and support to schools' sanitation facilities.

    It also appealed for chlorine, oral rehydration salts and cash.

    But the announcement has been criticised for urging potential donors to contact the national co-ordinator through a gmail address instead of an email address with a government domain.

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  8. Malawi school-bus driver to be charged after crash kills pupil

    Peter Jegwa

    Lilongwe, Malawi

    Malawi police say they will charge a driver of a school bus in which one student was killed after a road accident.

    He was taking school students from the capital, Lilongwe, to the northern city of Mzuzu on Monday.

    The country's schools re-opened on Tuesday (except in Lilongwe and Blantyre) following the festive break.

    Marymount Secondary School, a girls boarding school owned by the Catholic church, hired a private bus to transport students ahead of the re-opening.

    The accident happened after the driver lost control of the bus, which was carrying 58 students, due to speeding, according to the police.

    A 14-year-old girl was pronounced dead on arrival at a nearby district hospital while another, aged 12, had her left arm amputated.

    Police say the bus driver will be prosecuted, but did not say on what charges.

  9. Malawi’s anti-corruption chief bailed after arrest

    Peter Jegwa

    Lilongwe, Malawi

    Martha Chizuma

    Malawi's anti-corruption chief Martha Chizuma has been released on police bail following her arrest in relation to a leaked audio of her complaining about lack of government support in the fight against corruption.

    Ms Chizuma was charged with "making use of speech capable of prejudicing a person against a party to judicial proceedings", after she claimed in the leaked audio that a top state official was "corrupt and compromised".

    Her lawyer said the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) boss was arrested on Tuesday just before 04:00 local time by heavily armed police who raided her home.

    Local outlet Nation online has tweeted pictures of her release.

    In parliament, Justice Minister Titus Mvalo told lawmakers that the arrest was “the work of those trying to frustrate the fight against corruption”.

    Ms Chizuma is highly regarded for her strong stance in the fight against corruption - which has led to the indictment of the vice-president, one cabinet minister and the head of police service.

    They all deny any wrongdoing.

    The leaked audio started circulating on social media in April in which she was recorded speaking to a person not employed by Anti-Corruption Bureau on the fight against corruption.

    Critics accused her of breaching the oath of secrecy and called for her sacking, but President Lazarus Chakwera said he would reprimand her both in private and public.

    Three civil society organisations have said that the "government needs to desist from frustrating those fighting against corruption".

    Last year, Malawi was ranked 110th out of 180 countries in Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index.

  10. Malawi battles deadly cholera amid vaccine push

    Emmanuel Igunza

    BBC News, southern Malawi

    Nurse Brenda Jingini in Lisungwi community hospital, Malawi
    Image caption: Brenda Jingini says the hospital's special cholera unit is getting busier

    Nurse Brenda Jingini considers her 55-year-old patient a lucky man - lucky to be alive and recovering from an acute infection of cholera that is surging through communities in southern Malawi.

    Too weak to walk or even talk, William Mponda's family had feared for the worst when he was admitted to Lisungwi community hospital.

    For three days he had been complaining at home of severe body pains, was vomiting and had diarrhoea.

    "Believe me, he is much better now. In much better condition that when he was brought in. We had to give him emergency care," Ms Jingini told the BBC.

    A man standing by William Mponda's bed at Lisungwi community hospital, Malawi
    Image caption: William Mponda's family feared for the worst as he was so ill before going to hospital

    After a week in hospital he was still weak. As Ms Jingini tried to fit a drip to his arm, he struggled to lift his head. But he dropped back to the metal bed, gasping and sweating in the hot morning sun.

    Part of this local hospital has been converted into a makeshift treatment unit for patients suffering from the highly infectious disease.

    Transmitted through unclean water, it can affect children and adults, causing severe diarrhoea, and can kill within hours if left untreated.

    "When we had just opened the special tent, we had few patients but now the cases are rising. We are worried the situation could get worse," Ms Jingini said.

    The cholera outbreak begun in March in the south of the country after Tropical Storm Ana and Cyclone Gombe caused floods and massive displacements.

    Rhoda Green, who recovered from cholera in a day, in Malawi
    Image caption: Rhoda Green urges people to get vaccinated - she says it meant she was able to recover from cholera in a day

    The infection has now spread to all of Malawi's 28 districts. Hospitals and clinics, especially in rural areas, are overwhelmed.

    Over the last nine months, more than 250 people have died and more than 8,000 others have been infected.

    The World Health Organization (WHO) says it is Malawi's largest cholera epidemic in a decade. There is concern the coming rainy season could worsen the situation.

    At least 12 other countries on the continent are dealing with rising cholera cases - including Kenya, Nigeria, Niger, Mozambique, Somalia, and South Sudan. Experts link such outbreaks to the effects of climate change effects, like droughts and floods.

    In May, the health ministry began a nationwide vaccination campaign. But the uptake has been slow with more than 1.5 million people out of a total population of 18 million having been vaccinated.

    Rhoda Green did get vaccinated and though she did get cholera, recovered after a day in hospital.

    "Those people not vaccinated get very sick while those that have been vaccinated don't get very sick," she told the BBC.

    "On sanitation we need to take good care of ourselves - like health workers stopped us from drinking water from rivers. We use water from bore holes or tap water from here at the health centre."

    Mr Mponda has also now been vaccinated to stop any further infections - and staff at Lisungwi hospital feel he will make a full recovery.

  11. Malawi men launch anti-violence campaign

    Grace Nyenyezi Khombe

    BBC News

    A campaign group in Malawi has launched a series of events to encourage men to be involved in ending violence against women and children.

    Men for Gender Equality Now (Megen), which has 50,000 members, has been holding marches in eight districts across the country as part of the UN's 16 Days of Activism.

    The group's national coordinator Marcel Chisi told the BBC that the aim is to challenge cultural stereotypes of men's role in society.

    “The idea is to challenge culturally constructed men privileges where men are considered superiors," he said.

    Some 20,000 men have been trained as peer educators, each urged to reach between 15 to 20 men in their homes.

    “Evidence is enormous that our young men are not properly groomed when entering into marriage as the case with young ladies who have several platforms such bridal showers, kitchen top-ups and wardrobe top-ups where they share family practice," Mr Chisi said.

  12. Malawi begins first large-scale malaria vaccination

    Grace Nyenyezi Khombe

    BBC News

    Baby being vaccinated
    Image caption: The vaccine has been through several rounds of testing

    Malawi has begun a large-scale infant vaccination campaign against malaria which is the world's first-ever campaign of its kind, World Health Organization (WHO) country representative Dr Neema Kimambo has said.

    The health authorities are using the only vaccine against the disease to be recommended by the WHO.

    The RTS,S vaccine, as it's known, has been through rounds of testing in Malawi, Ghana and Kenya over the past few years.

    In the most recent phase of testing, since 2019, the WHO has supported the vaccination of 360,000 children per year across the three countries.

    Early trials showed that more than 30% of the 5-to-17-month-olds who received it were protected. This low level of efficacy has meant that some have questioned whether it is worth the cost.

    The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which backs vaccine development, is not directly supporting the roll out as it feels that other tools to fight malaria as well as other vaccines being tested may be a better use of funds, the development news website Devex has reported.

    RTS,S, developed by pharmaceutical company GSK, has been more than three decades in the making.

    While the vaccine has a relatively low level of effectiveness, it has raised hopes of saving some of the more than 400,000 people who die annually from the mosquito-borne disease, most of them children in Africa.

    In 2020, more than four million people in Malawi caught malaria and out of those at least 2,500, most under the age of five, were confirmed to have died from the illness.

    The country’s national malaria control programme manager Dr Michael Kayange told the BBC's Focus on Africa programme that the vaccine should now prevent some of these deaths.

    “We’re quite aware of its low efficacy... [but] in malaria control there is no single intervention that does it all. We’re not saying that the malaria vaccine has come to eliminate malaria but it’s one tool towards malaria elimination."

    Other measures include the distribution treated mosquito bed nets.

    The vaccine will be administered through the regular immunisation programme which reaches all corners of the country.

    Dr Kayange said this will ensure that all children under five, even in the remotest parts of the country, will be covered.

    The roll out began in Malawi's central region in the district of Mchinji. Eleven of the country's 28 districts will be covered in the first part of the roll out and the authorities expect to vaccinate 330,000 children.

    The vaccine needs to be given four times - once a month for three months and then a fourth dose 18 months later.

  13. Malawi's ex-president visits stepson in prison

    Grace Nyenyezi Khombe

    BBC News

    Crime scene tape
    Image caption: Police found 25 bodies in one grave

    Malawi’s former President Peter Mutharika has for the first time visited his stepson Tadikira Mafubza in prison in the capital, Lilongwe.

    Mr Mafubza was arrested last Wednesday in connection with October’s discovery of a mass grave in the north of the country containing 30 bodies suspected to be Ethiopian immigrants. He has been charged with human trafficking and murder.

    Mr Mafubza has not commented on the charges.

    Mr Mutharika did not grant any interviews after the visit to the prison.

    However in a statement released on 26 November he described the arrest as part of a political witch-hunt against his family and supporters of his Democratic Progressive Party.

    Several members of his former administration, including ministers and his bodyguard, are also in prison facing corruption-related charges.

    Mr Mutharika became president in 2014 and stepped down in 2020 after he lost an election to current President Lazarus Chakwera.

    Police spokesperson Peter Kalaya confirmed to the BBC that Mr Mafubza's trial will take place in Mzuzu, nearer to the site of the alleged crime. But a date for the trial has not been set.

    In October, police found 30 bodies, including 25 in one grave, in a forest in the northern district of Mzimba.

    The bodies were exhumed and autopsies have been carried out but the authorities have not yet disclosed the cause of death.

  14. Ex-president's step son arrested over Malawi mass grave

    Peter Jegwa

    Lilongwe, Malawi

    Image shows police crime scene tape

    Police in Malawi have arrested the step son of former president Peter Mutharika as part of an investigation into the discovery of an unmarked mass grave in the northern Mzimba district last month.

    Malawi's authorities said the 30 bodies retrieved were likely of Ethiopian immigrants.

    Police have said their investigations led to the arrest of Tadikira Mafubza as well as impounding a vehicle they suspect was used in transporting the dead men.

    A pathologist, who is part of the team conducting autopsy on the bodies, said partial results have been presented to the Malawi police and that a full report will be submitted at the end of month.

    Malawi is grappling with the problem of human trafficking in which organised syndicates traffic men, women and children from East African countries including Ethiopia and Somalia. From Malawi they are further trafficked to South Africa, Europe and the United States.

    Syndicates are thought to involve influential Malawians.

    In 2020, the Malawi High Court sentenced former Home Affairs Minister Uladi Mussa and an immigration officer to five years imprisonment for helping non-Malawians obtain Malawi passports.

    Mr Tadikira has not made any public comments, but the former governing Democratic Progressive Party have described the arrest as part of a political witchhunt against Mr Mutharika's family and his supporters.

  15. The musician with albinism who caught Madonna's attention

    BBC World Service

    World Questions, Malawi

    Lazarus Chigwandali

    Malawian Lazarus Chigwandali has faced many hardships in life because he was born with albinism but his passion for music brought him international fame and Madonna’s attention.

    Born into a family of farmers in Dedza, central Malawi, Lazurus's parents had five children and his younger brother was also born with albinism. The condition affects the production of the pigment that gives skin, hair and eyes their colour and also means that skin burns very easily.

    “Our parents tied us on their backs when they worked in the fields. After a day in the sun, our whole bodies were full of blisters," he told the BBC.

    "We couldn’t afford sun cream, so our parents took the decision to literally lock me and my brother in the house to protect us from the sun."

    When Lazarus and his brother did go out, the other children threw stones at them, thinking they would catch albinism. Because of this deep-rooted discrimination, Lazarus’s brother Peter knew they would never be able to get work like other people in the village and he suggested they forge a path in music together.

    They had no instruments, so they made their own and started to get noticed performing in the local village. Sadly, Peter developed skin cancer and died when he was 12. Lazarus was devastated, but decided to play on alone.

    Many people in Malawi and other East African countries wrongly believe that the body parts of people with albinism can bring wealth or good luck. People with albinism are frequently abducted, murdered or mutilated to supply this grisly trade. It’s something that Lazarus has witnessed first-hand.

    “One time when I was performing outside a mall, a woman came past driving a nice car. She said her husband would pay me to do an album of 10 songs and he’d pay 1m kwacha ($973; £825) for each song.”

    Lazarus got in the car to meet her husband and whilst waiting in the car, a maid from the house came out and told him she had overheard the couple making plans to sell him in neighbouring Tanzania. She told him his life was in danger if he didn’t get out, so he ran.

    Lazarus’s love for music finally paid off when a passing NGO worker videoed him busking and posted it online. It was shared around the world and seen by a UK-based record producer who then recorded an album with Lazarus, bringing him international attention.

    He went on to perform for Madonna and at Malawi’s international Lake of Stars music festival.

    “Meeting Madonna and watching her perform was an eye opener in many ways, but perhaps the biggest thing for me is just sleeping in my own house that has iron sheets above my head. That has brought me such a deep joy, it’s unimaginable.”

    Lazarus Chigwandali