Covid deaths attributed to witchcraft in some villages; doctors call for increased awareness

When Alfred Chawinga, a 60-year-old man in Rumphi, died of a respiratory complication which medical records show to be Coronavirus, his relatives sought the real cause of what they believed to have been an untimely death from traditional doctors. They visited several shrines where they were told that their kindred was bewitched.

The revelations from the African doctors ignited commotion.

“We were told, he was bewitched because of chieftaincy and land related issues. All the traditional doctors settled on this allegation. We simply believed,” said Solomon Chawinga, a 40-year-old brother to the departed.

He added: “Since others couldn’t control themselves, after such revelations, they confronted the accused witches and chaos erupted. As I’m saying, the village has fallen apart. Others have fled to unknown places for refuge.”

In Kanyenjere village, traditional authority Katumbi in Rumphi district, about 300km from Mzuzu city, any untimely death is associated with witchcraft. The only natural death, according to villagers therein, comes when someone is very advanced in age.

The death of Chawinga, who died merely some days after he felt some chest tightness, difficult breathing, fever and incessant coughs was easily connected to witchcraft because, as his kinsman put it, he had never suffered from such a strange ailment all his life.

“At first, he complained of throat sores and difficulty in breathing. Of course, he was not even asthmatic. We wondered how he suffered in breathing and the incessant coughs. Quite strange,” said the young Chawinga.

“When we took him to the hospital,” he added, “they claimed it was Corona virus. With stories that government was faking the virus for financial gains, we rubbished the recommendations from the doctors and, that’s when we took him to sangomas.”

After the death of Chawinga, many others, especially the aged, followed. People were spending time in graveyards, interring their relatives – still, believed to have died of witchcraft.

In this area of northern Malawi, dissemination of information is a challenge, given its mountainous terrain. There are no radio and television signals and no circulation of traditional newspapers. People get information through village meetings of which they usually give a deaf eye.

Association of Medical Doctors in Malawi president, Victor Mithi, described the information gap on Corona virus between urban dwellers and those in villages as a contributing factor to the rise in cases of the virus in the country.

“We’ve realized that in villages, people are lacking information on Coronavirus, and this is the reason we’re having high infection rate in such areas. Unfortunately, people there, due to insufficient information are still skeptical about the existence of the virus,” said Mithi.

“People are not following public health guidelines and are shunning the vaccine because this whole issue is new. That is why, when someone dies of covid, they connect that to witchcraft.”

According to the doctor, as an association, they’ve employed some strategies to reach out to rural masses with information regarding the virus.

“So, we’re engaging influential people in those areas like chiefs, traditional healers and the clergy. We believe they are best placed to assist people understand. In villages people believe information from such people and we believe once these people are used to change the mindset of people, this whole drama of associating Corona virus with witchcraft will by history,” added Mithi.

Owing to conspiracy, many people in villages are shunning vaccines and still holds the notion that Corona virus is a paranoia; it doesn’t exist. Consequently, they still gather in thousands in funerals, markets and churches without following preventing measures.

Though the infection rate is reducing in the country, according to the ministry of health, people still must be abiding by the public health guidelines to avoid s resurgence of the virus. Above all, they must get themselves vaccinated.

Malawi, a least developed country in southern Africa, is one of the countries in the world that has greatly suffered with adversities of the virus. Its economy has collapsed and everything is moving at wobbling pace.

About a dozen people, including government ministers and other high-profile figures, have succumbed to the virus.

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