Since 2001, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has aimed to support the Malawi Ministry of Health in preparing for public health emergencies, in the same way that CDC supports emergency preparedness and response in the United States.
Since 2006, CDC has provided both technical and financial support to the MOH to create the Public Health Institute of Malawi (PHIM). PHIM was written into Malawian law in 2016, and is now leading the nation’s health cluster outbreak response efforts to contain the COVID-19 pandemic.
In addition, since 2016, CDC has supported training of over 90 front-line district health officers in detecting and responding to outbreaks through the Field Epidemiology Training Program (FETP), which is modelled on the U.S. CDC’s own Epidemic Intelligence Service (EIS) training curriculum. These front-line district public health practitioners are now helping to lead the fight against COVID-19 in Malawi.
Building on annual USG/CDC investments in laboratory systems throughout Malawi of $4-6 million per year over the last several years, CDC laboratorians supported the Malawi MOH in renovating the virology laboratory at the Lilongwe Community Health Sciences Unit (CHSU) campus in 2018, purchasing equipment worth 100’s of thousands of dollars necessary for detecting COVID-19 and other pathogens, conducted the training of MOH laboratorians during March 16-18 this year, and helped conduct the first COVID-19 tests on March 18. These efforts led to identification of the first three cases of COVID-19 in Malawi, announced by the President of Malawi on April 2nd, 2020.
In keeping with this long-standing partnership with Malawi, the U.S. CDC was awarded another $3 million on April 21st to support Malawi MOH pandemic control efforts focused on four key areas: (1) significant scale-up of laboratory-based COVID-19 testing capacity across 10 molecular labs in the country, supporting all 28 districts, to allow for at least 30,000 tests, (2) strengthening the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) run by PHIM on the CHSU campus to serve national response efforts, (3) surveillance to identify hotspots of COVID-19 transmission for targeted public health response efforts, and (4) infection prevention and control efforts targeting emerging hotspots through both community-based and facility-based approaches.
At this time of global COVID-19 spread, with the United States also fighting the pandemic at home, this additional support for Malawi demonstrates continued American generosity and is another clear message that the American people and Malawi are in this battle together.