Malawi SDI Alliance Response to Covid-19

by James Tayler

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On behalf of the the Malawi Federation of the Urban & Rural Poor and The Centre for Community Organization & Development (CCODE)SDI presents the work to fight COVID-19 in Malawi. 


On Thursday, April 2, President of the republic of Malawi confirmed the country’s first three cases of COVID-19. On the same day, the president declared a state of emergency. In view of this directive, schools and universities have been closed since Monday, March 23. Authorities have also banned public gatherings of more than 100 people, which applies to weddings, funerals, religious congregations, rallies, and government meetings. Security forces have been deployed to enforce the restrictions.

In Malawi, 75% of the urban population live in informal settlements (NSO 2018). Conditions in informal settlements are grossly inadequate at the best of times. Many residents live without access to on-site water or sanitation, people live in over-crowded housing, and are facing the constant threat of forced eviction. Hand-washing, disinfecting surfaces, physical distancing and quarantine for those infected – essential elements of COVID19 prevention – are often impossible for residents of these communities. In addition, residents of informal settlements often do not have access to accurate information and, in cases where such information is provided, the information is provided using male-dominated channels.

Furthermore, the measures in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19 have disrupted livelihood activities for many of these communities. As normal economic activity comes to a halt, the vulnerability of low-paid and daily wage workers in the country has intensified to the point that many are struggling to survive. People most at risk of being impoverished by Covid-19 are those who fall between the cracks of most social protection systems: the people living in informal settlements and working in the informal economy.

It is against this background that the Malawi SDI Alliance has been supporting informal settlements in the cities of Blantyre, Lilongwe and Mzuzu. The communities are being supported with daily access to information as provided by the government and entrepreneurship skills in the COVID-19 crisis, as many businesses are folding. The communities are also being provided with COVID-19 prevention equipment such as face masks, hand washing buckets, and hand sanitisers.

Below is an update of the progress that has been made in supporting informal settlements with information on COVID-19.

  • All 35 federation groups in Blantyre, Lilongwe and Mzuzu now have hand washing equipment. Cities were prioritised because that’s where the first cases were reported . Federation savings groups continue to meet and conduct their savings, loans and group entrepreneurial activities in compliance with government regulation. Plans are underway for the federation’s tailoring groups to produce masks to be sold at a reduced price to federation members and to scale up these efforts throughout Malawi.
  • The Malawi Alliance worked with the Lilongwe District Health Office to spread Covid-19 awareness messages to ten informal settlements in Lilongwe City (population roughly 30,000) using a public address system that can effectively reach large numbers of people. The Alliance hopes to enter into partnership with District Health Offices (DHO) in other cities to carry out similar work in those areas.
  • Community leaders from 24 informal settlements in Lilongwe City were capacitated with knowledge and skills on how to disseminate COVID-19   messages to their communities. These capacity building sessions were specifically targeting informal settlements where DHO officers were being chased away. These communities do not believe that COVID-19 is real or that there are confirmed cases in Malawi. Many continue to hang on to unfounded conspiracy theories about the disease, putting themselves and their communities at high risk of contracting and spreading the virus. So far, a total of 480 community leaders from 24 informal settlements in Lilongwe city have participated in these sessions. The Alliance aims to scale up efforts by conducting similar sessions in cities and towns across Malawi.
  • Media efforts carried out by the Malawi Know Your City TV team to raise awareness with youth, including: production of six short videos depicting how the COVID-19 pandemic  has affected the informal trader, the girl child, and other vulnerable groups in informal settlements; posters on COVID-19 messages produced and shared in various platforms; and dissemination of awareness messages across various social media channels. Federation youth groups  are also engaging  their fellow youth gathering and other community platforms to disseminate these knowledge materials. The alliance has also collaborated  with  a famous Musician among the youth population to produce a song on COVID-19 prevention. The Lilongwe District Health Office has agreed to train Federation youth on Theatre for Behaviour change and Development, and will provide support on the production of a music video on COVID-19.
  • The Malawi Alliance  has partnered with The Mzuzu City Council to support federation leadership in the Northen region with COVID-19 prevention measures.  These leaders have been tasked with the role of spreading the COVID-19 messages within their communities.

The Malawi SDI Alliance plans to continue efforts to raise awareness around the COVID-19 pandemic and provide support for the communities they serve. They are actively seeking additional support from donor partners and working with government to reach as many people as they can in Malawi’s informal settlements.


Please keep following SDI as we highlight the initiatives of SDI affiliates across Africa, Asia & Latin America in the fight against COVID-19 to support the most vulnerable throughout this pandemic.