It was just like any other day for most Malawians when we heard the news about cyclone Freddy. The authorities had warned us about its landing in the Southern region, but none of us knew how devastating it was going to be. As the wind picked up the pace, the skies turned darker and the rains became stronger, a lot of houses in the southern region began to creak and shake. Occupants could hear the roof and walls starting to give way until some of the houses fell.
A state of emergency was declared on the 13th of March 2023. Most victims had to leave their homes, and with each passing moment, their worries only grew stronger. The cyclone affected 11 R4H target districts in the southern region namely, Blantyre, Chiradzulu, Mangochi, Machinga, Mwanza, Mulanje, Thyolo, Phalombe, Zomba, Chikwawa, and Nsanje.
Despite the challenges of the cyclone, the transportation of clinical samples and results from health facilities to laboratories continued. From January to March 2023, 143,909 samples were transported from health facilities to districts or molecular laboratories for diagnosis and 180,833 results were transported back to the health facilities compared to 148,014 samples and 117,870 results which were transported within October to December 2022. This represents a minimal decrease of 2.77% in samples transported and a 53.4 % increase in the results delivered. Thanks to the courier’s commitment to delivering samples and results with diligence, showcasing their dedication to improving the lives of individuals in remote communities.
In Mangochi, Lungwena bridge which connects 7 health facilities to the district laboratory was damaged and transportation of samples was only affected in the week of 24th March 2023. The affected facilities include Lungwena, Namalaka, Kadango, Mgola, Makanjila, Lulanga, and Maganga.
Lungwena bridge connecting 7 health facilities to the district laboratory in Mangochi ( Photo taken by Levi Mzumara after Cyclone Freddy)
Even though it might seem like Cyclone Freddy was the only challenge, there are some areas that are hard to reach due to terrain and other geographical challenges. Rameck Chavula; Sample Transport Courier at Mphompha village in Rumphi reports, “We face topographic challenges due to hills and rivers which cover most of Rumphi district. Couriers struggle to transport samples during rainy seasons as most dusty roads become slippery” explained Chavula.
Sample Transport Couriers are crucial, especially during pandemics, where the prompt analysis of samples is vital in achieving accurate diagnosis, and the successful transportation of clinical samples and results during and immediately after Cyclone Freddy and other environmental challenges is a testament to the importance of proactive planning and effective communication in ensuring the sustainability of healthcare.