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Diabetic priest who had Covid-19 sets up centre to help Malawians

Father John Benjamin Moyo poses outside St. John's hospital in Mzuzu, Malawi, Aug. 13, 2021. Father Moyo helped set up a COVID-19 center within the Catholic hospital after he contracted the virus and recovered. (CNS photo/Agnes Manda)

CNS– After recovering from Covid-19, a 64-year-old diabetic priest in a town in northern Malawi set up a centre to help others avoid his own plight.

“I would never have survived (Covid-19) if my cousin hadn’t been a doctor and able to help me,” Fr John Benjamin Moyo, parish priest of St Peter’s Cathedral in Mzuzu, told Catholic News Service.

In late December, Fr Moyo felt unusually weak while tending crops in his backyard. “I thought I must have malaria,” he said, noting that he has had the life-threatening disease “many times….We’ve learned to live with it here,” he said. Malaria spreads to humans through the bites of infected mosquitoes.

Father John Benjamin Moyo, a parish priest at St. Peter’s Cathedral in Mzuzu, Malawi, celebrates Mass Aug. 13, 2021, in St. John’s health institute college, which is attached to the hospital that now has an isolation center where people infected with COVID-19 can be treated. (CNS photo/Agnes Manda)

When he tested negative for malaria at St John of God Hospital, next to the cathedral parish house where he lives, Fr Moyo was treated for an infection.

“But I felt strange and so weak,” he said. “And, while I didn’t have a fever, everything was so painful — even my eyes hurt.” He realised he must have Covid-19, and a test confirmed this.

While his oxygen and blood-sugar levels showed that he needed hospitalisation, he had nowhere to go. St John’s had no isolation section, and the town’s government hospital, which was set up to treat Covid-19 patients, was full.

In bed at home for seven days, “I would sleep as though I was dying,” Fr Moyo said. “I was so helpless, and I knew that, with diabetes, this was very dangerous for me. I also knew many people had died — so I felt this might be the end for me, too.”

Fr Moyo called his cousin, who is a doctor and runs a busy clinic about three miles from the priest’s house. “He heard me gasping for breath and said, ‘Come here and stay with me’.”

After receiving oxygen for a few days in a room that his cousin prepared for him in the clinic, Fr Moyo began to feel better and returned home. His place with his cousin was quickly taken by others in a similar position.

“I realised the enormous need and was very aware of my privilege through my cousin,” Fr Moyo said.

With this in mind and with Mzuzu Bishop John A Ryan’s backing, he raised funds through friends in Germany to start a Covid-19 centre within St John’s hospital.

Patient Cecelia Phiri is assessed by Dr. Charles Nyasulu in the COVID-19 isolation center at St. John’s hospital in Mzuzu, Malawi, Aug. 13, 2021. (CNS photo/courtesy Father John Benjamin Moyo)

The centre opened in January and by mid-August had treated 66 critically ill people, Fr Moyo said, noting that of these, 54 have recovered. Six people died and another six are still receiving treatment.

“It’s small, but it’s made a huge difference,” he said, noting that funds are still needed for more oxygen supplies and medicine.

As of August 24, Malawi, which has a population of 19 million people, has had more than 59,600 cases of Covid-19 and more than 2,000 deaths. Catholic Relief Services (CRS) and Malawi’s Catholic health commission are working with the south-east African country’s health ministry to get vaccines to people in remote areas, said Molly Kumwenda, who works for CRS in the capital, Lilongwe.

Kumwenda said that at least 728,700 vaccines have been administered in Malawi since roll-out began in late March.