Mabvutojobani

Malawi expects to see its GDP grow by 4.3 percent this year and 5.7 percent next year while inflation will remain in double digits, largely due to a recent devaluation of the kwacha, finance minister Ken Lipenga told parliament yesterday.

“Inflationary pressures in 2012 continued to rise, reflecting a loose fiscal and monetary stance. Coupled with the pass through from currency adjustments, we now estimate inflation in 2012 at 18.4 percent with the prospects of decelerating to 16.1 percent in 2013…” he said.

 Malawi’s economy had been in a tailspin for about a year after former president Bingu wa Mutharika  picked a fight with major donors that led a $121 million budget hole in the 2011/12 fiscal year.

But the  new government installed in April has worked to restore aid flows with the finance minister Ken Lipenga saying that grants have for the 2012/13 budget increased by 140 percent compared…

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Africa is a Country (Old Site)

A couple of weeks back I had the privilege of being able to bring together a few of the leading lights in social media in eastern and southern Africa, for a discussion about the role of social media in health and rights activism. The panel formed part of a meeting titled OpenForum 2012 – Money, Power & Sex: The paradox of unequal growth. Organised by the Open Society Foundation for Southern Africa in collaboration with its sister Open Society Africa Foundations (OSIEA – Eastern Africa, OSF-South Africa and OSIWA – West Africa), the meeting brought together an eclectic mix of activists, academics, artists and policy-makers to talk about “the factors driving change on the continent and how these will influence the African democracy, development, human rights and governance agendas over the next decade” – to quote the conference programme. (Full disclosure – I work for the Open Society Foundations, in…

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Weekend Express coverage of some of the World Environment Day activity that is taking place in Malawi. More coverage to come as I’m working on a feature which will include coverage of this event, other events, and information on environmental issues affecting local human development and economic growth.

The Weekend Express

BY INNOCENT KUMCHEDWA

Minister of environment and climate change management Honorable MP Catherine Gotani Hara,on 5th June asked the citizens, the private sector and the civil society to put a combined effort in the achievement of the green economy.

The minister says this at Kalambo primary school in Area 25, when she presided over the function of the ‘world environment day’, which falls on 5th June. The day was set aside by the United Nations general assembly in 1972, and in Malawi, this year’s theme was “green economy: Does it include you?”

When speaking at the function, the minister acknowledged that the theme was sending a clear message that everybody can play a vital role in environment conservation and sustainable development.

“The theme sends a clear message that everyone is an important element of environmental conservation and sustainable development. It invites everybody to evaluate whether the efforts being taken by…

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Traders accused of price abuses after devaluation

BY KARISSA GALL & THOM KHANJE

Some retailers on the local market have been accused of consumer abuse through exaggerated prices increases following the devaluation of the Malawi kwacha last month.

The Consumers Association of Malawi (Cama) has since warned Malawians to inform themselves on their consumer rights in the face of exploitation by traders after the devaluation.

Cama Executive Director John Kapito said on Thursday the association has noted “quite a number of abuses, especially in the retail chain,” and “that prices of detergents and bread have gone up; some with margins that have nothing to do with the devaluation.”

“Considering that the Malawi market is highly imperfect, where producers and suppliers of goods and services are never monitored on how they conduct their pricing of goods… pricing abuses are common amongst our traders,” he said.

“The Malawi market is mainly run by cartels and monopolists… and they are often colluding on what to charge.  We have already witnessed how big and small suppliers have colluded, and this is hurting consumers.”

Kapito said Cama has been monitoring pricing for the past six years, and that now more than ever there is a need for increased transparency in market pricing and consumer awareness.

“There is now need to have a platform where consumer prices could be released to the public so that they can make informed choices,” he said.  “We also believe that releasing prices from both the good and bad shops can assist to create competition on the market.”

While Kapito said Cama plans to begin releasing price information to the public, including “the landed cost of products that we have on the market for which [Cama] believe (s) consumers are being ripped off,” he urged government to take action to enforce the Consumer Protection Act and curb abusive business practices.

When questioned, Richard Chiputula, director of mergers and acquisitions at the Ministry of Industry and Trade’s Competitions and Fair Trade Commission, observed that while some traders have rushed to raise prices without evaluating the effect of devaluation on their cost of production, others are still selling at old prices as they undertake mathematical calculations of their new overhead costs.

“Others are being more realistic,” he said.

Chiputula reaffirmed that the Consumer Protection Act demands reasonable conduct in doing trade and that in trying to control the situation the commission will work to establish whether a business has been “reasonable” with prices adjustments.

To do so, he said the commission has been monitoring practices by traders since the devaluation of the kwacha and last week took part in a meeting organised by its mother ministry which was aimed at discussing movements in commodity prices as a result of the devaluation.

“Following the meeting, we have engaged some of the major players in the manufacturing and retail sector to discuss the right steps they should undertake after the devaluation,” he said.  “Raising of price is inevitable for most but business people should not take advantage of poor people by exaggerating the increases.  They have to be reasonable.”

Chiputula said that if a trader is found to have made unreasonable price adjustments the commission “may be forced to take action as stipulated in the law, including possible revocation of trading licenses.”

But Kapito maintained that the commission could be doing more to make Malawians aware of their consumer rights, saying that while Malawi has “one of the best laws on consumer protection in the region… what is missing is the state to make that information available to the public.”

Kapito urged government to not only “encourage the industry… to avoid cheating and abuse” but also “ensure that there is free information on the impacts of the devaluation on certain products.”

“What consumers need now is not sympathy but correct information,” he said.  “The consumer and competition laws do provide relief in terms of redress… but you need your people to know what is contained in such laws as their rights.  The state has to ensure that consumers can demand these rights when they are abused.”

***

To learn more about consumer protection laws and opportunities for effective consumer redress in Malawi, you can contact Cama by calling (265) 1-844-795 or by writing to P.O. Box 5992, Limbe.

***

This article was originally published in The Daily Times newspaper on June 4, 2012.

“Meating” halfway – The growing importance of soy in Malawi

Skewered meat sizzles on kickstand grills along the main M1 highway, a whole pig is slaughtered in an open-air butcher’s market shack, a farmer herds wealth-representative cattle down a maize-sidled byway and a “road runner” free range chicken dodges potholes and traffic – in a culture where cows have long symbolized status, slaughtered to honour guests and in the north traded as a dowry to marry off daughters, making the conscious choice to live a vegetarian lifestyle in Malawi is about as rare as an order of steak tartare.

But a Development Aid from People to People in Malawi (DAPP in Malawi) program is working to change the mindset and the menu.  In 2007, with support from the United States Department of Agriculture, the American Soya Bean Association and the World Initiative for Soy in Human Health, DAPP in Malawi began training Total Control of the Epidemic (TCE) field officers to promote soy in communities affected by HIV/AIDS.  Today over 100 of their HIV/AIDS support groups have been trained to cultivate and cook with soy in the preparation of other local foods.

Recipes promoted through the DAPP – TCE soya program include banana and soy sausage, masamba a soya (soy vegetables), khofi wa soya (soy coffee), and mkaka wa soya (soy milk), and are made available on print paper with easy-to-follow directions; “Boil 3 cups water, wash (1 cup of) soya in cold water, don’t put the soya into the hot water all at once but little by little like you do with rice,” begins the soy milk instructions.

Goliyati Village resident Mary Bilila serves up a selection of newly-mastered soy recipes during a DAPP – TCE HIV/AIDS support group meeting. Photo by Karissa Gall.

Based on the nutritional value of 1 cup of boiled soybeans, the DAPP – TCE soy milk recipe would provide about 300 calories, 28 grams of protein, 10 grams of fiber, and 20 grams of fat.  The soy milk would also provide essential vitamins and minerals, with 1 cup of boiled soybeans providing 50 percent of the recommended daily intake of iron, 40 percent of the recommended daily intake of vitamin D-balancing phosphorus, and 4 percent of the recommended daily intake of vitamin C.

According to DAPP in Malawi Partnership Officer Nozipho Tembo, the nutritional benefits of soy foods could make a substantial difference in the fight against HIV/AIDS.  The disease is known for causing micronutrient deficiencies – vitamin A, vitamin B12, vitamin C, vitamin D, carotenoids, selenium, and iron in the blood – which in turn speed the progress of the infection, and in 2006 a study conducted by Médecins sans Frontières in Malawi found that patients with mild malnutrition were twice as likely to die in the first three months of treatment, and patients with severe malnutrition were six times as likely to die as patients with a healthy body weight.

“Over the years we have learnt that soya is high in proteins which can be substituted for meat, cheese and fish, of which some people in rural areas can’t afford to have on their daily meal,” said Tembo, adding that 1 kg of soya costs MK200 (CAD0.80) compared to MK800 (CAD3.00) for 1 kg of meat.  “The DAPP – TCE project teaches the communities to adhere to a well-balanced diet and this is one way for people in rural areas to get proteins in their meals.”

To support existing programming and expand into other areas of Malawi, Tembo said DAPP in Malawi and TCE will be engaging seed companies for seed donations.

“The demand is high… the people who are (HIV) positive are living a healthier life whenever they adhere to the information given to them about soya and how to prepare it,” she said.  “Now the challenge will be to provide soya seed for the people to plant in their fields.”

***

This article was originally published on the Journalists for Human Rights (jhr) website on June 2, 2012.

Remodel to rehabilitate – The need for mental health aftercare and rehabilitation treatment in Malawi

A build or remodel is not typically what the doctor ordered to stave off chronic stress and depression; the process risks construction anxiety and expense and according to Walter A. Brakkelmans, an associate clinical professor of psychiatry at UCLA, “on a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being the death of a child and 1 a fender-bender, a remodel rates a 6 in terms of stress.”

But in Malawi there is a shortage of doctors with orders, and for Flomina Mawindo, a single mother of five in Che Mboma village, rebuilding a dilapidated house is her best shot at ensuring her own rehabilitation to home life after being discharged from Zomba Mental Hospital in Zomba.

Mawindo was admitted to Zomba Mental Hospital after familial and financial stresses set off a downward spiral into anxiety, insomnia and ultimately mental illness – she struggled with a husband who, until his death in 2004, encouraged thieves to steal from her to ensure she did not have the means to divorce him, in-laws who cursed her and her children and a son who stole from other villagers and skipped town leaving her to answer to the authorities and pay outstanding debts.

She began walking the streets at night, talking to herself and became increasingly violent when her children attempted to restrain her, and after initially being turned away from the Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital primary health care facility in Blantyre was admitted to the mental hospital in November of 2011.  She was discharged in February of 2012, and is able to recall, with a shaking voice and haunted eyes, her experience at the hospital as one of “trouble and pain.”

“In the first ward, it was not good at all,” Mawindo remembers.  “There were four or five patients in one room.  The others would bite me, abuse me, and grab my food.  I could not protect myself.”

Mawindo said the problems that made the hospital “like a prison” were caused by a shortage of doctors and nurses, an issue that was confirmed by a nurse at the hospital who said “the nurses are always there, but for example today we are only two nurses, and we have got 53 patients… For one or two nurses to look after 50 patients and provide the quality of care that they need?   It’s impossible.”

Due to the shortage of doctors and nurses, psychological treatment has not been institutionalized and instead the provision of drugs takes priority.

Mawindo has been prescribed sodium valproate, a mood stabilizer which causes side effects which include fatigue, shaking and sedation and are immediately obvious in Mawindo.  She is no longer strong enough to walk to the market to do business and has not returned to work since being discharged.  Her eldest daughter Tadala absconded from primary school to care for the family until the Jacaranda School for Orphans stepped in and hired a caretaker.

Beyond the caretaker and maize meal donations provided by Jacaranda, Mawindo said she is not aware of any community-based services to help support her and her family.

In the absence of government-funded community-based aftercare and rehabilitation services, Mawindo said she plans to make repairs to a dilapidated house on her property and open it to renters or turn it into a chicken farm.  She said with the supplementary income she will feel less stress about paying debts and providing food for her family.

She derives her motivation from the time spent at the mental hospital – not from therapy and positive learning but the fear of return.

“I was going through trouble and pain at that hospital,” she said.  “I’ve decided I will never go back there again.”

***

According to Draft III of the Malawi Health Sector Strategic Plan for 2011-2016, in March of 2011 when the plan was published there were no mental health activities at community level, primary health care units did not provide mental health services, the treatment services provided by tertiary institutions were mainly for people with severe or acute mental health problems and the provision of psychological rehabilitation was limited.

The same report found that in 2011 only 1.5 percent of the national health budget was being spent on mental health and except for one or two districts, most districts spent none of their budget on mental health services apart from the procurement of drugs.

***

This article was originally published on the Journalists for Human Rights (jhr) website on June 1, 2012.

Mabvutojobani

The Committee to Protect Journalists welcomes Wednesday’s vote in the Malawi parliament that repealed a sweeping amendment to the country’s penal code which had allowed the government to ban any news “not in the public interest.”

The amendment to Article 46 of the penal code was first introduced in November 2010 under the late President Bingu Wa Mutharika, and passed last year, but was never implemented, according to news reports. 

The law would have allowed the information minister to ban any publication it deemed contrary to public interest for an unspecified period of time, news reports said. 

Its implementation was suspended pending constitutional review after it was challenged by local and international press freedom and civil society groups.

Local journalists told CPJ that all of the parliament members except one had supported the repeal-even former Information Minister Symon Vuwa, who had been one of the principal proponents of the law.

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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.

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