Image above shows Dr Christian and translator Mami with mother and baby
When Malawi was hit by the record-breaking Cyclone Freddy in February 2023, UK-Med (representing the UK as its Emergency Medical Team) responded by creating mobile medical clinics in the camps created for Internally Displaced People who’d lost their homes. The UK-EMT was already in the north of the country, responding to the worst cholera outbreak in decades, so was able to quickly mobilise a team for the south. Visiting six different camps in the area, it has been running clinics in each of them at least once a week.
The cyclone displaced more than 500,000 Malawian people, with public infrastructure such as health facilities, schools and roads being damaged or destroyed. The largest southern camp the team are working in has approximately 9,000 people living in it; the smallest is home to approximately 800 families.
Robina Saeed, UK-Med’s Humanitarian Operations Officer, arrived in Malawi at the beginning of May. ‘When I got here I was blown away by the dedication and positivity in the team. They work like a well-oiled machine, tirelessly treating patients in blazing Malawi heat, six days a week. Whilst healthcare is free in government clinics, we are seeing severely disrupted supply chains and local clinics without access to any medicines. Our services are therefore crucial for people who need medicine and those who are not living in proximity to health centres.’
UK-Med are currently the only EMT in the area, with a team of 13 – including four doctors and five nurses. Since their arrival mid-April, the team’s clinics have served more than 7,000 patients – of which about one in six are below the age of five.
‘Malaria is one of the most common problems being seen,’ says Robina. ‘The disease is endemic in Malawi, but people are more exposed, having to sleep out in the open after losing their homes.’ Also present are musculoskeletal pains, including back pain and joint aches. This is mainly being reported by people older than 65, who are having to sleep on the floor. The team is also treating respiratory infections and UTIs, along with a substantial number of chronic illnesses such as hypertension, plus dental problems and eye issues; often caused by people having to sleep in the dust.
‘Every three days we’re adding approximately 1000 patients to those we are treating, and it’s hard to see people living without the basics, such as enough food and clean water. We are advocating for these other unaddressed needs to other organisations, and are grateful that, thanks to the support of the FCDO and WHO, we have the medical supplies we need to keep our clinics running. We have a relatively small team out here, but the impact we’re having is remarkable.’
Anifa has been living in the Namiyala camp since February with her husband and two daughters aged one and five, making them some of the earliest arrivals after the cyclone hit. Their mud house was washed away and then their three goats got sick and died. ‘We arrived with nothing but the clothes on our backs and the few household items we were able to salvage,’ Anifa tells us, a local driver interpreting for her. ‘We’d seen you coming to the camp and a friend told me that your doctors are great and that you have medicines too.’
When she visited our clinic, her daughters had both had a fever for the last few days and her five year old had had a chronic cough for over a week. Both children were tested positive for malaria by the team and given anti-malarias and paracetamol, and Anifa’s oldest daughter was also given antibiotics for her chest infection.
‘I would have considered walking to another clinic, but they do not have the medicines you do,’ Anifa told us. ‘So I am very thankful and happy that you are here.’
We are grateful to the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) for UK Aid funding from the British people to fund this important response.
As the UK’s frontline medical aid charity, UK-Med is able to instantly respond to crises or disasters globally. We do this both on behalf of the UK Government and independently. To find out more, and help fund our ongoing work, click here.
The WHO Emergency Medical Teams Initiative (EMT) was formally established in 2010 and came out of the Foreign Medical Teams Working Group, chaired by UK-Med’s founder, Professor Tony Redmond.
``Every three days we're adding approximately 1000 patients to those we are treating, and it's hard to see people living without the basics, such as enough food and clean water.``
– Robina Saeed, UK-Med Humanitarian Ops Manager
``We have a relatively small team out here, but the impact we're having is remarkable.``