The novel coronavirus, or COVID-19 as it is also known, has brought along numerous challenges and devastating consequences. And as of the 20th March, 2020 was declared a state disaster in Malawi.
With no specific vaccines or treatment, the best way to prevent and slow down the spread of the virus is frequent hand washing, not touching one’s face, social distancing and self-isolation. The virus has forced us to think outside of the box as to how we can continue day-to-day business and activities. It has caused us to come together as a collective, to brainstorm various solutions on how to strengthen health systems and better manage resources, as well as develop evidence-based policies.
The Health Economics and Policy Unit (HEPU) dedicates itself to serving as a centre where policymakers, researchers and other stakeholders come together to generate research questions and evidence, which aims to inform policies. Think Tank meetings are typically held in Lilongwe, Malawi’s capital.
Like many other Think Tanks, HEPU has had to identify different avenues to continue to engage with policymakers. As institutions commit themselves to working from home, technology plays a vital role in ensuring an optimal work environment. Despite not being able to meet physically, HEPU was still able to hold its quarterly Think Tank meeting on the 21st May 2020 via Zoom with the help of the Thanzi la Onse Project.
The Extraordinary Think Tank Meeting was well-attended by participants from Zambia, Zimbabwe, Uganda and the UK, among other countries, and was the most-attended meeting since the Think Tank began.
The purpose of the meeting was to analyse the severity of COVID-19 in Malawi, the public health implications and measures of control, as well as the psycho-socio economic, legal and ethical aspects of the pandemic. Throughout the meeting, speakers emphasised the need for the rapid production of accurate information and evidence, which will be essential in order to create adequate policies and reduce stigma in the community. Additionally, it was noted that the current lack of treatment means that the virus will live among us for a while and, therefore, it is imperative to highlight the ethical dimensions and the costs of neglecting or providing inadequate protection.
The Extraordinary Think Tank meeting provided a great opportunity to showcase the work being undertaken in Malawi regarding policy development. The meeting opened doors for support from other international partners, thus creating the chance to further strengthen HEPU.
The coronavirus has interrupted life and brought new challenges, but these challenges stress the importance of a unit such as HEPU and motivates the team to continue to pioneer policy development in Africa.
Written by: College of Medicine, Malawi team | June 2020