Contact tracing on COVID-19 remains a challenge

* Some of returnees were not honest in providing real details and contact phone numbers

* Some were even providing their South African numbers as their contact numbers

* Contact tracing format has changed as health personnel have now been trained

* Most returnees are coming without COVID-19 negative certificates but are being tested first

By Tione Andsen, MANA & Duncan Mlanjira, Maravi Express

Tuesday’s COVID-19 situation report indicate that 108 COVID-19 cases from the cumulative figure of 6,377 cases recorded since April have been lost because follow-up efforts by the Ministry of Health proved futile.

Most of the cases lost due to lost follow-up are attributed to some of returning residents mostly from South Africa, who were providing wrong contact phone numbers as well as false final destinations.

Mavuto Thomas

That’s the challenge the Ministry of Health is facing as disclosed by Mavuto Thomas — acting deputy director of Preventive Health Services for Heath Education Service — at Hillside Lodge in Mponela, Dowa on Tuesday during COVID-19 media interface meeting.

“Some of the returnees were not honest in providing real details and contact phone numbers,” Thomas said. “Some were even providing their South African numbers as their contact numbers while in the country.”

He said the contact tracing format has changed as health personnel have now been trained on how to source contact phone numbers and physical features which are prominent to their areas for easy tracing.

He added that local transmission has hugely contributed to the recent surge of cases. As of Tuesday, the country registered 23 new cases from the 272 tests done bringing the total number of active cases to 323.

Of the cases, 17 are locally transmitted infections — 12 from Blantyre, four from Lilongwe and one from Thyolo while six cases are imported infections identified through routine screening at Mwanza border.

Three of these imported cases are from Blantyre, and one each from Mangochi, Mzimba South and Zomba Districts.

Going into December, new cases that were being registered were minimal and COVID-19 related deaths remained stagnant but on December 8, there was one new death, no new cases and the active cases were at 38.

Then the new cases started rising — 8 on December 12, 3 the next day, 4 on 14th, 10 on 15th, 11 on 16th, 47 on 17th, 10 on 18th, 5 on 19th, 8 on 20th, 41 on 21st and 46 on 22nd and 13 on 23rd.

On Christmas Eve, there were 16, on Christmas Day 62, and 4 on Boxing Day, 11 on Saturday the 27th, 23 on Sunday, 11 on Monday and 23 on Tuesday — bringing the active case to 323.

Thomas said most point of entries in the country do not have quarantine facilities that could accommodate at least 1,000 people at once for self quarantine.

“We are advising both relative and returnees for continuous self-quarantine adherence and preventive measures to avoid further spread of the virus,” he said.

He also said most point of entries do not have testing sites and this makes it difficult to have the returnees screened before entering the country.

“Most returnees are coming without COVID-19 negative certificates and we are making sure they are tested in order to ascertain their status.

“We are encouraging the returnees to contact their local health facilities to check for their results,” he said.

The Ministry has since procured four cargo containers to be converted into testing facilities at Songwe border in Karonga, Mchinji border, Dedza border and Mbirima border in Chitipa.

He added that these borders were relying on district hospitals for screening services.

Daniel Mapemba

Epidemiology Officer for Public Health Institute of Malawi (PHIM), Daniel Mapemba said the country of the cumulative figure of 6,377 cases, 654 were health workers.

And of the 188 COVID-19 related deaths, 144 were men and 44 women while the average age of most people that have died stands at 56 years.

“For the two past weeks, the country has seen a sharp rise in Covid-19 cases and admissions have steadily increased,” Mapemba said.

In the Tuesday situation report, co-chairperson of the Presidential Taskforce on COVID-19, Dr. John Phuka said 14 of the active cases are currently admitted — seven at Kamuzu Central Hospital and seven at Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital.

Dr. Phuka

He also said surpassing the 300 mark from the lowest record of 30 active cases two and half weeks ago, is an alarming speed of 10-fold increase and at least three times doubling speed in just two weeks.

“Much as we have imported cases influencing the status, community transmission is also rising especially in Blantyre and Lilongwe — the disease’s hotspot districts. 

Dr. Phuka also warns that there are reports of mutated COVID-19 virus affecting many countries including some African countries such as South Africa, which are said to be spreading faster than the primary variant.

“This is putting everyone at high risk of contracting this virus especially that we have socioeconomic travels with these countries. 

“The risk is even higher during this Festive holidays when travel and celebrations are at peak. Correspondingly, as the number of cases is rising so is the number of admissions as well as deaths.”

To avoid these devasting outcomes, Dr. Phuka urges the to adhere to all preventive measures of COVID-19 as taught by Ministry of Health such as watching social distancing, washing hands, wearingbmasks amd seeking care early upon development of symptoms.

Appeal from Speaker of Parliament Catherine
Gotani Hara