Malawi Health Workers Face Harassment over COVID-19 Deaths

In Malawi, health care workers have come under attack several times recently while trying to bury victims of COVID-19 without spreading the coronavirus.

Health care workers now want a review of guidelines that say they should handle the burials.

The incident happened Tuesday in Mchinji district in central Malawi where villagers threw stones at an ambulance carrying the dead body, in an effort to force the heath care workers to release the body for viewing.

The pandemonium forced the heath care workers to return the body to the mortuary.

This came a week after villagers in Zomba district in southern Malawi chased away health care workers who had come to bury a COVID-19 victim.

They too claimed that their loved one died of other illnesses, not COVID-19, and demanded to bury the body themselves.

Shouts Simeza is chairperson for the Human Resources for Health Coalition.

He says if the attacks continue, the health care workers will refuse to bury any more bodies.

“Because of harassment and abuse, we always leave in fear,” Simeza said. “If the situation continues, all of us heath care workers, we will withdraw ourselves from the service of escorting the remains of our brothers and sisters in the communities.”

Families have argued they see no reason they can’t bury COVID-19 victims after health care workers disinfect the bodies. They say they believe the body is safe from coronavirus after disinfection.

But Simeza says the health care workers are only following guidelines on how to bury the victims of COVID-19.

“The guidelines still demand that the health workers should support in escorting and burying of remains for safety of the public,” Simeza said, “So, the direction now is to work on the guidelines, what we have at hand; review them. For that to be carried out, we will need to involve community so that they can appreciate the scourge.”

In the initial months of the COVID-19 pandemic, experts warned that dead bodies were infectious, like bodies of those killed by the Ebola virus.

More recently, however, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control issued a burial guide that said, “it is believed there is little risk of getting COVID-19 from a dead body.”

The guide said the coronavirus, which causes COVID-19, spreads mainly through droplets produced when a person coughs, sneezes or talks.

Malawi has seen a surge in COVID-19 cases since November.

Health authorities put the current average number of daily infections at 300 cases compared to 10 during the first wave of the pandemic.

Source: Voice of America