29 September 2020
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Safeguarding the elderly from pangs of Covid-19

Written by  Memory Chatonda
Moses prepares fire on a charcoal burner -Pic by Abel Ikiloni Moses prepares fire on a charcoal burner -Pic by Abel Ikiloni

Blantyre, May 5: Like a sword piercing through the heart, Fanny Moses received news of the first three confirmed Coronavirus (Covid-19) cases in the country through her battery-powered pocket radio.

The shocking news did not only catch her attention but it created anxiety and trauma in her life and that of her siblings.

At the age of 69, Moses, who lives in one of the suburbs seven kilometres from the commercial capital, Blantyre, feared that her life was next on the line due to the diminishing immunity associated with people of her age.

“I am old,” she says while seated on dusty veranda of her house in Chilobwe Township.

Moses added, “My immunity is weak and Covid-19 is a contagious and killer disease. I feel my life is at risk of contracting the virus and that I may die.”

The frail bodied elderly who stays with a widowed daughter and four orphaned grandchildren harbours fear in her heart that was compounded by lack of encouragement and knowledge on preventive measures to keep out Coronavirus from entering to her homestead.

Moses’ situation exemplifies the psychological shocks that many people including the elderly experience in the wake of Covid-19, which was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organisation (WHO) on March 12, 2020.

President Prof. Peter Mutharika, on his part, declared the country as State of Disaster on March 20, 2020 due to the pandemic.  

Moses is one of the 800, 000 elderly persons in the country that are susceptible to Covid-19 and the figure is against world elderly population standing at around 703 million persons aged 65 years and above, according to a United Nations publication World Population Ageing 2019: Highlights report.

According to the WHO, Covid-19 is impacting the global population in drastic ways with older people bearing the brunt of its threats and challenges.

In its April 3, 2020 publication on its website, the WHO observes that although all age groups are at risk of contracting virus, older people like Moses face significant risk of developing severe illness if they contract the disease due to physiological changes that come with ageing and potential underlying health conditions.

WHO says over 95 per cent deaths resulting from Covid-19 occur in those older than 60 and that more than 50 per cent of all fatalities involved people aged 80 or older.

The elderly like Moses, among others, the World health body says, are more susceptible to the pandemic due to their compromised immunity.   

WHO Regional Director for Europe, Dr. Hans Henri P. Kluge said older people and those with underlying medical problems like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, chronic respiratory disease and cancer likely develop serious illness due to physiological changes associated with ageing coupled with decreased immune function and multi morbidity.         

Kluge’s sentiments are anchored by the study done by Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CCDC) released on February 11, 2020 and published in the Chinese Journal of Epidemiology which shows that the number of deaths among infected people in China, remains low but rises among the elderly.

“We looked at more than 44,000 confirmed cases of Covid-19 in China as of February 11, 2020.

The study classified 80.9 per cent of infections as mild, 13.8 per cent as severe and only 4.7 per cent as critical. The fatality rate remains low but was among those over 80 years old,” the study stated.

The centre’s statistics justify Moses’ fear of the disease, which she attributed to satanic practices.

“All I know is that the disease has been initiated by people who practice Satanism. Their aim is for us to perish,” Moses, currently living in a two-bed roomed house, constructed with unbaked bricks, reaffirms.

In the Covid-19 situation update, the Ministry of Health indicates that as of May 3, 2020, 39 Coronavirus cases, seven recoveries and three fatalities had been recorded in the country.

District Medical Officer (DMO) for Blantyre, Dr. Zaziwe Gundah pointed out that people should not worry because the disease was preventable and treatable only if they practice hygienic standards and those infected follow medical advice.

“Chances are very high that an infected person can recover fully and engage in productive activities once again,” he added.

Gundah encourages various partners in the health sector to continue disseminating awareness messages of the pandemic across to ensure that people observe all precautionary measures to safeguard themselves and older people from catching the virus.

One of such partners is Beautify Malawi (BEAM) Trust that is on a nationwide campaign to sensitize people on the need to wash hands with soap regularly and observe physical or social distancing as some of the measures to avert the disease.

Special Advisor on Health to the country’s First Lady, Pro. Gertrude Mutharika, Emma Mabvumbe said BEAM has so far reached out to almost all districts of the country with precaution and preventive awareness messages on Covid-19 besides distributing hand washing materials and soap to people including the elderly.

A nurse working with Malawi Network of Older People (MANEPO), Hilda Soko commended BEAM for complementing efforts by government and MANEPO in providing information to the elderly on the deadly Covid-19 which is caused by Coronavirus.

She said MANEPO was aware that older people are vulnerable to Coronavirus and that the organization has embarked on a series of trainings including door-to-door outreach initiative on Covid-19 to prepare the elderly socially, physically as well as psychologically.

“Generally, a large percentage of older people live in abject poverty and are also vulnerable to infectious diseases because of decreased immunity. We are also aware that currently, some are traumatized with the pandemic and are hopeless.

“This was the reason MANEPO embarked on door-to-door outreach programmes to educate them on what Coronavirus is; how it is spread and preventive measures to follow, in addition to distribution of hand sanitizers and soap because most of them cannot afford to buy such preventive materials,” Soko emphasized.

Today, Moses is one of the older people who has been sensitized on Covid-19 and lives a joyous life.

“I now understand what Coronavirus is and I always make sure that I follow all the preventive measures such as living in isolation and also wash hands with soap frequently because I do not want to succumb to this disease,” Moses explained.

In one of Covid-19 updates held in Lilongwe, Minister of Health who was Chairperson of the Special Cabinet Committee on Covid-19, before it was restructured by President Mutharika, Jappie Mhango said the country was currently making strides in raising awareness on preventive measures to follow to effectively contain further spread of the virus.

“Right now, a good number of people are aware of the pandemic and they are following hygienic etiquette like washing hands with soap regularly, avoiding handshakes and observing social distance, among others, in an attempt to prevent further spread of Covid-19,” he stated.

Mhango encourages all Malawians, including Moses to continue following high standards of hygiene as laid down in the measures to thwart the pandemic.