A Malawi-Liverpool-Wellcome Trust Clinical Research Programme (MLW) study entitled ‘Investigating immunological markers associated with protective immunity against COVID-19’ (PROTECT study) has shown some results that imply that the pandemic is taking a different trajectory in Malawi in comparison to initial projections. The study has since recommended that more locally driven research is urgently needed to help inform policy decisions and other issues around the pandemic.
The study whose aim is to establish how the body protects itself from the SARS CoV-2 a virus that causes COVID 19 is taking place in Blantyre and targeting 18-65-year old’s. The first phase of the study conducted a serological investigation of 500 health care workers both clinical and non-clinical, in Blantyre between the months of May and July with results showing a 12% prevalence of SARS CoV-2 antibodies. The first COVID-19 case in Malawi was reported on 2nd April and at the time of the study there were 2716 cases and 51 deaths reported.
The lead investigators for the study, Drs Kondwani Jambo and Marah Chibwana described this as a high seroprevalence rate. The researchers have said that this implies that the disease is common and widespread but with a high number of cases being unreported and mild/asymptomatic. Countries such as the China, United States, India, Italy and Brazil have reported some of the highest numbers of cases, hospitalized patients and deaths from COVID-19.
Based on the results of the first phase of the PROTECT study, the researchers have recommended mandatory use of face masks in public spaces, shielding of vulnerable groups for example the elderly and an increase of locally driven research to aid purposeful interventions.
In August 2020, the Malawi government made the wearing of face masks mandatory.
Commenting on the need for local driven research, MLW and College of Medicine public health professional Dr. Titus Divala during a virtual press briefing of the results said that local research is paramount in fighting COVID-19 as it can help know the true picture of COVID in Malawi.
The PROTECT study is an 18 month long study that started in May 2020 and it is part of MLW’s contribution to the response on COVID-19 pandemic through scientific inquiry that can generate evidence for local solutions and provide information for the global effort to understand the novel virus.