One Tuesday morning in March, 48-year-old farmer Lokoliyo Bwanali set off for his maize plot. He never came back. Neighbours discovered his body later in the small field where he had poisoned himself.
“The wife of the deceased said her late husband was under pressure from creditors and was failing to settle his debts,” said Edward Kabango, from Malawi’s Dedza district police department. “The deceased left his home without explaining to his family members where he was heading until he was later found lying dead in a field, a kilometre from his home.”
Bwanali, said his brother, had approached him in distress over money, but it never occurred to the family that he might kill himself.
Malawi is seeing a sharp rise in suicide rates this year, with some attributing it to the economic stresses of the Covid pandemic. Malawi police service reports an increase of as much as 57% on the same period last year.
“We believe that the rise could be linked to coronavirus since there has been a slowdown in economic activities,” said clinical psychologist Dr Chiwoza Bandawe.
“Suicide is a very serious issue at the moment because we’ve seen from the statistics that the numbers are increasing since January, compared to the same period last year,” Bandawe said.
“It is a drastic rise so it is an issue that needs to be taken seriously. The rise can be attributed to a combination of economic and social factors. I think as people become more stressed – be it from economic or social [factors] – they don’t know how to cope.”
Suicide mortality rate (per 100,000 population) in Malawi was reported at 3.7% in 2016 by the World Bank.
Malawi is one of the poorest countries in the world. About half of the population are below the poverty