Cathedral of the Holy Cross, Lusaka, Zambia — The Coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19) has already killed at least 260 Zambians and has infected at least 9,900 more according to the Ministry of Health. The numbers might have been much higher had it not been for the Ministry of Health and partners’ swift action and the selfless action of each Zambian who has stayed home and worn a mask. While COVID-19 kills directly, it also kills indirectly by distracting Zambians from the important work they do to prevent other diseases like malaria. While attention is focused on COVID-19, malaria continues to spread from person to person through mosquitoes, and approximately 14,700 cases are recorded daily in Zambia.
Faith leaders are taking action to prevent the spread of both diseases and are setting an example for the rest of the country. On August 18th, under the auspices of Faith Leader Advocacy for Malaria Elimination (FLAME), the leaders of the Anglican Church, Diocese of Lusaka were tested for COVID-19 and malaria in partnership with the Ministry of Health’s Zambia National Public Health Institute (ZNPHI). The faith leaders sought testing to protect themselves and their congregations, and to encourage others to prevent both diseases from taking more lives.
During last week’s event, Rev. Edwin Mwanza, one of the more than 30 clerics who received testing services from the Ministry of Health, prayed “God of love and care, our being here today to voluntarily test for COVID-19 is not lack of faith, but to accept the challenge we have at hand and to encourage the people we lead to know their status and be advised accordingly.”
The Right Reverend David Njovu, Bishop of the Anglican Diocese of Lusaka and member of the Zambia End Malaria Council, was motivated to lead the testing event because of the country’s increasing number of COVID-19 and malaria cases.
As of today, the number of positive malaria cases continues to trend higher than usual, as COVID-19 has led to interruptions in the global supply chains for malaria testing and treatment commodities, and fear of COVID-19 has caused some Zambians to delay seeking treatment for malaria, which can lead to increased morbidity and death. The clergy hope to encourage timely testing and treatment seeking by setting an example.
These worrying trends are not unique to Zambia. The World Health Organization (WHO) and The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria have already sounded the alarm on COVID-19’s potential impact on the global effort to eliminate malaria. According to the WHO, severe disruptions to insecticide-treated net campaigns and in access to antimalarial medicines could lead to a doubling in the number of malaria deaths in sub-Saharan Africa this year compared to 2018. The Global Fund has stated that the knock-off effects of COVID-19 could wipe out nearly two decades of progress towards malaria elimination. Global investments in the malaria fight have helped to save 7 million lives and prevent more than 1 billion cases of malaria since 2000 – gains which are now under threat from COVID-19.
During this time of urgency, Dean Thomas Charley from Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Lusaka recognized the importance of addressing malaria during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Malaria is still one of the major causes of death,” said Dean Charley. “Preventive action can save families and congregations. Testing and knowing one's status is an act of faithfulness.” The Dean said that getting tested, encouraging others to do the same, and practicing good prevention for both COVID-19 and malaria by wearing masks, social distancing, and sleeping under a treated bed net, “is a better pastoral response than conducting a funeral service.”
COVID-19 and malaria are both preventable: COVID-19 through physical distancing, mask wearing, and good handwashing, and malaria through the use of insecticide treated bed nets and the acceptance of indoor residual spraying. Both COVID-19 and malaria spread from person to person—COVID-19 through respiratory secretions and contaminated objects, and malaria through the mosquito. To prevent further person-to-person spread, it is essential to identify people who have COVID-19 and malaria—even when they show no symptoms. Therefore, testing is critical to saving lives and keeping Zambians healthy.
Bishop Njovu said that clerics must remain healthy to carry out their work and protect others. “As COVID-19 is concerned, should the cleric get sick, there is a risk of spreading the disease out to the general public. Even when all the guidelines are in place, the risk is high, and we have seen health workers get sick. The clerics have also tested for malaria because it is one of the dangerous diseases the country is grappling with. The family, church and the nation at large suffer when the Cleric is sick from malaria,” explained Bishop David Njovu.
Bishop Njovu stated that ending malaria and COVID-19 requires a collective effort from all Zambians to ensure they adhere to all the guidelines provided by the Ministry of Health. In addition, he said, “the National Malaria Elimination Programme requires financial support in order to deploy all its interventions at optimal level.”
“The Ministry of Health has commended the Anglican Church clerics for their commitment and continued efforts in the fight against COVID-19 and malaria in Zambia. As frontline people, who attend to a large number of people in our community at events ranging from church services, funerals, weddings and other functions, this gesture is important and shows that religious leaders can take precautionary measures against COVID-19 and Malaria,” said the Ministry of Health Spokesperson, Dr. Abel Kabalo.
Faith Leader Advocacy for Malaria Elimination (FLAME) Zambia is a coalition voice of religious leaders for malaria elimination. FLAME catalyzes and strengthens interfaith coalitions of religious leaders for malaria advocacy. FLAME Zambia is supported by the J.C. Flowers Foundation’s Isdell:Flowers Cross Border Malaria Initiative.
Mr. Amu Mudenda
National Advocacy Coordinator - FLAME
Phone: +260 971 810 127 | Email: firstname.lastname@example.org