Archive | May 2012

Mabvutojobani

Malawi’s Parliament on Wednesday repealed the controversial Section 46 of the Penal Code removing the powers of the Minister of Information to ban or prohibit any publication deemed undesirable.

Section 46 is one of the repressive laws that caused Malawi’s diplomatic isolation and an aid freeze from the country’s key Western donors.

Despite initial resistance from the former ruling party — DPP — who argued that  the Bill tabled did not fulfil the 28 days notice requirement, legislators from both sides of the House repealed it describing it as a threat to free speech and media freedom.

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The Weekend Express

BY CASSIM AUBI

As one way of promoting gender aware reporting, journalists in the country have been urged to use gender sensitive language in their articles which provides recognition to equality between men and women in their roles in society and promote gender mainstreaming in the country’s media houses.

Seanna Chingamuka editor and manager of gender and media diversity center (GMDC) which is based in South Africa and managed by Gender Links made the call during the two day opinion and commentary workshop held at Victoria Hotel in Blantyre from 24th to 25th may 2012.

Chingamuka said gender awareness should start with the journalists because it is a well knowledgeable journalist on gender issues who can provide informed opinions and comments on gender to the public.

“It is time to change our mindset and realize the role of women and female reporters in our media houses, gender links is urging…

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Blood cancer in Malawi: “effectively no treatment is available”

Participants in the Health and Civic Research Initiative Ltd (HACRI Ltd) Big Walk for Cancer raised their heart rates to raise money for blood cancer patients on Saturday, May 26, walking just over 60km in 13 hours from Zomba Central Hospital to Upper Stadium in Blantyre.

The Big Walk kicked off from Zomba Central at 2 a.m. Saturday morning accompanied by a police traffic vehicle, and continued along the highway to the route end-point at Upper Stadium where a raffle and live entertainment were on offer.  Two less rigorous walks also took place with a second group walking the Zomba-Blantyre route in turns with an accompanying vehicle and a third group heading to the end-point from Blantyre Town Hall.

According to Dr. Yohannie Mlombe, the University of Malawi College of Medicine physician who fronted the walk, the fundraising effort was inspired by the loss of late Malawian blood cancer patient Peter Kaunyolo and aimed to raise money “to support various blood cancer activities and cancer activities in general.”

At press time Mlombe reported that a total of K2,179,886 in donations had been collected and that the final amount was yet to be tabulated.

While Mlombe termed the event a success, he said they fell shy of their predetermined target.

“Our target was K25,000,000; we did not raise enough,” he said.  “Devaluation also reduced the value of our collections.”

To meet their K25,000,000 target, Mlombe said HACRI Ltd will organise more events including a “garage sale” in July and a second-annual Big Walk.

What is blood cancer?

“Cancer is basically an abnormal growth of cells,” Mlombe said leading up to the weekend event.  “Blood cells are prone to becoming cancerous because blood cells are constantly dying and being replaced.  Everyday our bodies must make billions of blood cells.  With such a busy ‘factory’ the probability of things going wrong is very high.

“Blood cells have three major functions depending on their type; they carry oxygen to the body, they fight infection and they help blood to clot.  With blood cancers these functions are disturbed and patients present with severe infections, severe lack of oxygen and life threatening bleeding.

“The most aggressive (blood cancers) kill the patient within weeks of diagnosis.”

Blood cancer in Malawi

According to Mlombe, “recovery rates are dismal” in Malawi “since effectively no treatment is available.”

“Patients with aggressive blood cancer in Malawi always die within weeks of diagnosis,” he said.  “Those with mild blood cancers live longer but progress fairly quickly and die because definitive diagnosis and treatment even of the mild blood cancers is not available in Malawi.  All blood cancers in Malawi, particularly among adults, run a natural course as treatment is not available.  Of all the patients that I have directly managed in Malawi with aggressive cancers, 23 in total have died within weeks of diagnosis.

“The latest of these is a 24-year-old young man called Peter Kaunyolo, who died on March 10, 2012.  Prior to his illness he was a healthy, strong young man.  It is always painful to hopelessly watch these people face agonizing and certain death, especially knowing that I could do something for them but I can’t primarily because systems are not in place to care for them.

“Currently there is a patient from Dedza who has an acute leukemia and we cannot even confirm the type of leukemia that he has; as time goes without doing anything for him, my frustration and hopelessness grows.”

“No systems in place”

While Mlombe said that Malawians can get treatment for mild blood cancers at any hospital in Malawi in theory, and that Kamuzu Central Hospital and Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital (QECH) have haematology clinics, “in practice there may be limitations in terms of clinical experience with treating these cancers in health facilities in the country.”

“For aggressive blood cancers one would have to have the services of a clinical haematologist available to them in a private hospital in order to access appropriate treatment,” he added.  “Treating aggressive blood cancers is complicated because it is like having to repair the engine of a car while the engine is running.  We need bone marrow for survival and yet the treatment for aggressive blood cancers requires that the bone marrow be wiped out first before replacement marrow can grow back or can be transplanted.

“It is the support that the patient needs while their bone marrow is down which is problematic in Malawian public hospitals,” he said, noting that support is required to fight infection, maintain oxygen carrying capacity and prevent severe bleeding.  “These patients need a kind of intensive care unit where each patient has a self-contained room.  For this reason, general oncology wards like the one that is currently available at QECH are unsuitable for the management of aggressive blood cancers like acute leukaemias.”

The Health and Civic Research Initiative

To help ensure equal opportunity for all Malawians to access health services, Mlombe said HACRI Ltd hopes to fund a dedicated haematology outpatient unit and an acute leukemia ward at a central hospital with the monies raised from the walk.

“Malawi is also one of only 24 countries in the world that does not have a radiotherapy machine,” he said.  “We would like to address this issue as well as the issue of a national cancer policy among other cross-cutting cancer issues.”

According to the HACRI Ltd letter inviting sponsors to donate to the Big Walk, a dedicated haematology outpatient unit and an acute leukemia ward at QECH “would allow outpatient provision of services such as regular blood transfusions, diagnostic procedures and administration of chemotherapy (cancer drugs)” and “required diagnostic tests”, a radiotherapy centre could be “used to manage about 60 percent of cancers” because “for some cancers, radiotherapy is the only effective treatment”, and a national cancer policy would allow for “a unified approach to cancer prevention and management”.

The HACRI Ltd letter also states that funds raised could target a national population-based cancer registry, carry out cancer research, and establish the patient assistance programme for cancer patients in Malawi.

“A global patient assistance programme called GLIVEC International Patient Assistance Program (GIPAP) provides a free drug to poor patients with a form of blood cancer called Chronic Myeloid Leukaemia (CML) in Malawi,” reads the letter.  “The drug costs from K500,000 to K1 million for a one-month dosage.  As of current clinical practice, patients must take this drug for life.  However, for patients to receive this drug free, they must undergo a blood test to confirm CML.  This test is not available in Malawi.

“It costs about K70,000 to K90,000 to have a blood sample sent to South Africa by DHL and obtain results,” the letter continues.  “The vast majority of our patients cannot afford this amount.  In addition, currently (January 2012) K5,000 is required as a Malawi Revenue Authority processing fee when the drug donation arrives in the country…  We would like to set up a patient assistance program to help these kinds of needs.”

According to Mlombe, HACRI Ltd will be using the donations that have been collected so far to “immediately set up the patient assistance programme to help give advice and help with some expenses for cancer patients.”

“Cancer patients are a minority in our environment, so their needs are neglected in order to ensure that the available limited resources treat as many patients as possible,” he said.  “But every human being, no matter how poor, has a right to dignity and there is nothing more dehumanizing than facing certain death in pain alone.”

Patients who have no medical scheme and require assistance with blood cancers – leukaemias, lymphomas, myelodysplastic syndromes, myeloproliferative neoplasms, lymphoproliferative neoplasms, etc. – can email patients@hacri.org.

Africa is a Country (Old Site)


Post by Travis Ferland

Malawi’s new president, Joyce Banda, has said that she will push for the repeal of her country’s anti-homosexuality laws. Of course this depends on her ability to secure popular support in parliament. Even if these laws are repealed, will public animosity towards gays and lesbians change? Will protective laws be created in their place? Will life be any different for Malawi’s sexual minorities?

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BNL champions rights media at MISA awards

Blantyre Newspapers Limited (BNL) was rewarded for excellence in rights media at this year’s National Media Institute of Southern Africa (Namisa) Malawi awards gala, which marked the climax of the annual World Press Freedom Day celebrations.

The event was held on Saturday, May 5 in Lilongwe and attended by former Vice President Justin Malewezi who made a key note address, Minister of Information Moses Kunkuyu, diplomats and other distinguished guests from several sectors.

BNL was awarded 14 of the 18 awards for print media on offer including Media House of the Year, and BNL reporters and columnists claimed 15 out of 36 individual awards categories, many of which highlighted human rights and governance reporting.

Deputy chief reporter Theresa Chapulapula was named Namisa Journalist of The Year for her investigative coverage of the Malawi Housing Corporation (MHC) scam in which high profile government and former ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) officials bought houses at prices below their market values.

Other individual awards went to chief reporter Charles Mpaka for best human rights journalist; Wezzie Nkhoma-Somba for best maternal health journalist; Isaac Masingati for best child rights journalist; Mpaka and Masingati for human resource for health journalist; The Daily Times correspondent Tiwonge Ng’ona for best women empowerment journalist; and Gabriel Kamlomo for best global partnership for development journalist, among others.

BNL Times Chief Editor Brian Ligomeka attributed the company’s success to team work and innovation.

“Our success depends on our dedication, team work and commitment to innovation.  At BNL Times even journalists with few years of experience pull surprises and win awards.  We will continue grooming new media gems while retaining our talented and multi-award winning journalistic gurus and columnists,” he said.

At the Times Group celebration that followed on Friday, May 11, Managing Director Leonnard Chikadya said he was excited with the media house’s success, describing BNL as a “vibrant institution that is continuously changing.”

Chikadya told the gathering that while the past year was filled with pressures to compromise, “the beauty of this profession is that you swore allegiance to say the truth” and that BNL Times has “raised the bar and next year we need to go beyond.”

Succession uncertainty: The future of press freedom in Malawi

Journalists unconvinced transition of presidential power alone will translate into improved press freedom

Joyce Banda was sworn in as Malawi’s newest president on April 7 under the terms of the constitution, following two days of political uncertainty after the sudden death of the late Bingu wa Mutharika.

Having won national and international recognition for championing the education and rights of underprivileged girls, Banda’s ascension to the state house has raised hopes for a fresh start for the impoverished nation.

But in a place where a two-day national news blackout left Malawian media scrambling to ascertain the fate of the late head of state, what can be said for the future of press freedom under the new leader?

According to Daniel Nyirenda, deputy editor of The Daily Times and editor of The Business Times, it will take more than a transition of power to translate into improved media freedom.

“We are at a period now where there has been a suppression of media freedoms,” said Nyirenda, citing “bad laws” for press freedom that were enacted during Mutharika’s second term of office.

“We’ve also seen threats from the executive arm of government on the media and the banning of advertising to media that is unfriendly to government,” Nyirenda added.  “Reporters or even newspapers are afraid to publish certain stories for fear of getting a backlash from the executive arm of government.”

When asked if rights media might improve now that the executive arm of government is under Banda’s new leadership, Nyirenda said he is unsure.

“In my view, I think much won’t change because it’s the same people really, just wearing new clothes.  In Malawi, we have people who believe in controlling the media…so much won’t change.

“But, I’m hopeful that now that (Banda) has tasted life in the opposition she has learnt a lesson and she might be more flexible in the way she handles the media.”

Based on comments from The Daily Times’ current chief reporter, Charles Mpaka, Nyirenda’s hope may stand to come true.

While Mpaka said that colleagues working longer in the industry have testified that Banda was averse to criticism from the media and personally attacked journalists when serving as a minister, he added that after she was ousted from the Democratic Progressive Party in December 2010 and started her opposition People’s Party, “she was reachable on her phones and willing to talk all the times that (he) phoned her.”

However, he added, the interviews were on issues serving her interests.

“From the experience that I have had with Malawian politicians, I would not rush to conclude that things will get easier for the media.  Politicians do change when they get the power and influence.”

When asked what needs to change to usher in a new “normal” for press freedom in Malawi, Nyirenda said that it’s not the people that need to change but the system.

“We still have a hangover of one-party dictatorship in our laws,” said Nyirenda.  “We also need to change MBC (Malawi Broadcasting Corporation) from a state-controlled institution to a public institution.

“We need to reviews these things – then there will be adequate press freedom in this country.”

This article was originally published on the Toronto Star website on May 4, 2012.

Culture through cornmeal

Nsima with ndiwo (stewed vegetables)

As a Canadian national the idea of a staple food was foreign to me before I moved to southern Africa; growing up as part of a “cultural mosaic” meant every meal could come from a different corner of the world.  But Malawi is no melting pot, and a lot can be understood of the landlocked southeast African country’s culture through nsima (en-see-ma), the thick, starchy maize flour mixture that fills the majority of pots in use.

Nsima is made by boiling a pot of water and slowly adding maize flour, stirring until the porridge is thick and smooth.  This is easier said than done and locals will advise you to learn from a Malawian woman before trying to prepare the porridge on your own; the mixture must be skillfully “paddled” and the thicker the maize meal gets the more difficult it is to muscle around.  My first solo attempt produced a finished product with lumps as large as popcorn pieces.

There is also more to eating nsima than meets the eye.  While the palm-sized white “pats” are arguably not much to look at, a foreigner might find themselves eyeing a utensil-less dinner set longer than they’re used to.  Steaming and sticky and served with no fork or spoon in sight, nsima is eaten with the hands in a practice that embodies the importance Malawians place on hospitality, community and an appreciation for the organic.  Before a meal, water is poured over the hands into a receptacle bowl with guests shown respect by being attended to first.  One to three pat-sized nsima servings are paddled onto a plate and garnished with scoops of relish or “ndiwo” on the side and the meal is topped with a gravy-like tomato brew or “soup”.  Each patron breaks off marble-sized pieces of nsima, and rolls and dimples the piece to scoop up the relish.  A guest will customarily be served in this fashion until they are unable to finish the food left on their plate.

The relishes add colour, flavor and essential vitamins and nutrients to the otherwise empty-carbohydrate-laden meal.  (The Atkins Diet would not do well in Malawi.)  They are made from fresh ingredients grown in the sprawling gardens that garnish fields, backyards, front yards and pieces of land that  otherwise seem unclaimed.  Ingredients can also be bartered for at the local outdoor market – a practice that makes grocery shopping more time-consuming but also more of an event and more social than queuing at a self-serve superstore checkout station.

Due to the lack of food processing plants in Malawi, relish ingredients stay true to their original form and recipes focus on featuring the simple flavours of the produce that is in season.  The shortage of forex in the country since 2010 also means few imported foods are available and for this reason Malawians have a full appreciation for enjoying seasonal offerings to the fullest before they are “finished” for the year.  Arriving in January at the end of mango season remains the biggest regret I have with regard to my experience of Malawi.

With mango off the menu, favourite pescatarian-friendly relishes include stewed chambo, a species of tilapia native to Lake Malawi, basic vegetable ndiwo which is pumpkin leaves stewed in tomatoes and onion, and mkhwani which adds groundnut flour to the basic vegetable ndiwo mix.

When I first arrived I ordered nsima to gain “street cred” in the newspaper office cafeteria and save money, as a full plate costs under CAD$1.  But after four months in-country the staple food has become a staple in my diet by choice.  Nsima is easy to stick to because of the way it sticks to your fingers; the new organic appreciation of the food and textural element of taking a meal.  Nsima is easy to stick to because of the way the starchy staple sticks to your ribs on days that include a four kilometer walk to and from work and life without labour-saving technology at your disposal.  Nsima is easy to stick to because it feels good to take part in something so central to the sustenance and culture of Malawi – it’s amazing the common bond that can be formed by cornmeal paste.

This article was originally published in The Chatham Daily News

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