At the battle field with COVID-19, almost all weapons have and are being explored and utilized in order to win the fight. Masks, PPEs, handwashing facilities, Menstrual Hygiene Management kits etc. are being bought and distributed to both public places, communities and households.

While all other groups of people are able to access these facilities, the case is not the same with prisons, specifically Maula and Mzuzu Prisons.

Mr. Wilbes Tembo is the Assistant Environmental Health Officer for Maula Prison and Mr. Msumba Head of Clinical Department at Mzimba prison had shared the status of the prison with WES Network secretariat and WSSCC National Coordination team.

As a prison we feel we are not very ready to fight the pandemic because we do not have the necessary PPE for everyone more especially inmates. Imagine, none of the inmates has a mask. This is a basic item to avoid contracting and further spread before all these other preventive measures.

Again, we do not have the capacity to check temperature at the main gate just to regulate entry.

Meaning that even sick people have full access to the prison premises putting at risk thousands of lives in the prison community. The only thing we are able to do is to have people wash their hands at entry points.

Come to think of the congestion in our prisons. This means no social distancing for the inmates is being observed and we have just received six inmates who have tested positive for COVI-19. Much as the inmates are currently on isolation and their contacts have been quarantined, they still pose a threat to the community considering the nature of a prison environment. The good news is that these inmates do not have complications to seek medical help.

Inquiring how female inmates are managing menstruation, Tembo alluded that at the moment the prison has sent all female inmates to Mzuzu Prison just to create a room for isolation for confirmed cases.

Walking around the prison premises; WES Network secretariat and WSSCC National Coordination team observed that there was a hand washing facility at the main gate, none of the prisoners had a mask on and a few of officers had masks on. Again, there was no temperature checking at the main entrance a situation which is different from other public premises like hospitals, hotels, etc. where temperature for all visitors are being checked before entry and are provided with masks.

WES Network and WSSCC National Coordination team carried out an assessment exercise just to understand the gaps as other entities have complained of stocking more buckets even than necessary and not other essential items.

Tembo recommended re-usable masks, gumboots for fumigation, HTH, bar soaps, a thermometer and heavy gloves as the main gaps for the prison.

Mr. Tembo, the Clinical In-Charge for Maula Prison had this to say “prisons have been the most neglected areas even amidst any emergency. Prisons are sound like a dump place to others, but mind you this a reformatory place and deserves such treatment, he lamented”

Tembo to the right with his colleague

The female inmates at Mzuzu prison identified the lack of access to sanitary materials as a great challenge to the management of Menstruation. One of the inmates lamented that the most difficult time in prison is when you menstruating as you don’t have the access to sanitary products. At Nkhatabay prison, a prison officer Mrs. Susan Harawa narrated a story that “one inmate was literally using the mattresses to manage the menses to an extent that the room was stinking and no one had an idea to what was the cause of the bad smell only to find out that it was from the used materials of the managing of the menstruation by one inmate who was mentally challenged” She further said that Menstrual management by the mentally challenged female inmates is a tall order both for the prison officers and the prison inmates

The female inmates identified the following as the challenges in safe management of the menstruation;

  • Menstrual Hygiene Sanitary products
  • Safe Disposal of the used sanitary materials
  • Lack of water sometimes, to manage menstruation
  • Lack of support from Prison services on Menstrual Hygiene Management

One inmate, Yvonne Kaphagawani from Maula prison had this to say after the assessment “this process will open the eyes of other NGOs to priotise MHM issues in prisons, and we are just hoping that the media person you have come with will be our mouthpiece to share our untold stories” she further thanked WSSCC for reaching out to the prisons.

Female inmates during the training

The fight against the COVID-19 in the health facilities in Lilongwe has a lot of gaps suffice to say many WASH organizations are Lilongwe based. An assessment that was done by the WSSCC and WES Network through the Malawi WASH Cluster has shown the following gaps across;

  • Insufficient Chlorine across the five facilities assessed
  • Lack of Protective gear for the frontline health personnel across the five facilities assessed
  • Insufficient hand sanitizers, face masks and hand washing soap

At Area 18 Health Centre, one of the Clinical Officers, Mrs. Tiwonge Banda Chimlamba said “working in an environment where we have less protective gear is very risky, however, I personally have always taken my job as a calling from God to help the most vulnerable under my jurisdiction regardless of the conditions I find myself working in

The Matron of Bwaila Hospital emphasized the need to priotise the protective gears for the health personnel in the fight against the COVID 19. She further narrated that the COVID 19 pandemic I shard hitting the health personnel due to the lack of the protective gears as evidenced with a number of them testing positive to COVID 19.