Throughout most of 2020 cases of COVID-19 were minimal in Malawi. Early in the pandemic, the government reacted quickly putting response measures in place that were impactful. By the end of 2020, with a population of 18 million people, Malawi had experienced less than 6,000 cases and fewer than 200 deaths.
That changed near the very end of 2020 as cases began to rise rapidly. It is speculated that infections spread from South Africa over the border into Malawi. Cases have risen sharply each day since January 1. At the time of this writing, there are more than 20,000 cases and more than 600 deaths. That is a 230% increase that occurred in fewer than 30 days. Note also that testing remains primarily available in the larger cities, while the majority of population lives in rural areas. Therefore, the reported cases likely do not reflect the full impact of the pandemic yet.
In response the government has again taken quick action. Schools have closed. Curfews have been put into place on markets, shops, food and drink establishments. Masks are required to be worn under penalty of fines. The government has also increased the number of testing locations, but these are limited primarily to the larger metro areas.
So far, the strategy seems to be having some impact. Infection rates have begun to decline, and vaccines are expected to arrive (minimal quantities) in March. Even so, there have been several deaths of high-profile people. Names everyone in the county knows, government officials and religious leaders. The result is that the people in rural areas are afraid. They reason, “If these people cannot survive, what hope do I have.”
Y-Malawi is responding while following strict precautionary and safety measures. We have installed hundreds of wash stations out in the villages, given out thousands of masks, and integrated education about COVID prevention into every program.
Some organizations and ministries have made the decision to scale back during this crisis. But what if like the story of Esther in the Bible, God has placed us here at this very time and place, for just such a time as this? Throughout history, followers of Jesus have always been the ones to respond when people are in trouble. It is when people are fearful that they need Jesus most.
Instead, we are moving forward, one step, one day at a time and in constant prayer. Already God is using this unique time in history for His glory. Please pray with us that He will use Y-Malawi and our partners as we seek to minister to the most vulnerable and share the love of Jesus at a time when they need it the most.