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Martin Davies
reports on death in Malawi, for African Perspective
 real 28k

Thursday, 11 January, 2001, 15:04 GMT
The cost of death in Malawi
Nedson Chanache in his workshop
Coffin maker Nedson Chanache: "Our job is to serve the nation"
Business is booming at the Chanache coffin workshop in Blantyre, Malawi's second city.

Nedson Chanache, who runs the business, remembers that his father used to make one coffin a week.

"Now we are selling about 20 or 30 coffins a day - that is only in town. But we have got branches... so in total we are selling almost 50 per day," he says.

The death rate is rising in Malawi, and there is little doubt as to what is behind it - Aids.

Coffin prices
Child's $26
Basic $29
Formica $60
Executive $144
Steel $2,230
Eight hundred thousand Malawians are HIV positive and last year 70,000 people died of Aids related illnesses.

This figure is taking its toll on those left behind in all sorts of ways.

A look at the price list for the coffins reveals how hard the cost of death hits an ordinary Malawian family.

The basic varnished coffin costs 1,350 kwacha (almost $30), the 'executive' coffin costs 6,750 kwacha ($144).

Considering the average monthly salary is just $15, the prices are far from affordable. Somehow the money is scraped together.

The wealthy pay up

The richer members of families are often leaned upon to provide funds.

Blantyre minister, Reverend Daniel Kunya
Reverend Daniel Kunya is worried that people are making money out of the rising death rate
Malawian television executive Brighton Matwere estimates that he spent in the region of $900 on burials last year.

He sometimes has to find the funds outside working hours.

"I remember having to borrow money from friends," he says,

"I collected about 15,000 (kwacha), dropped home, and everybody was literally waiting for me, because I am the man with the money."

Ignoring the ill

The cost that death can incur means that sometimes sick people are not visited in hospital. Friends and relatives are scared that they could be lumbered with dealing with the funeral after that person has died.

If no-one comes forward to claim the body - the state has to conduct the burial.

But that is not the only burden the state has to bare. Malawian economist D.D. Phirri says that in a country struggling to develop economically, the rising death rate is holding that development back.

We have lost... all sorts of people who are still in their prime...The work that should be done is not being done

D.D. Phirri, Malawian economist
"We have lost professionals such as doctors, lawyers, engineers, nurses, and all sorts of people who are still in their prime... And the work that should be done is not being done."

Mr Phirri estimates that between 10% and 15% of the able bodied population are not available for work.

Benefiting from death?

The high funeral costs have led to allegations that some people are cashing in on this national tragedy.

Reverend Daniel Kunya, a church minister from Blantyre, says "people have gone into businesses which are not good morally... they are taking advantage that more people are dying."

Back in the coffin workshop, Nedson Chanache denies this.

His priority, he says, is serving the nation - not making a profit.

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See also:

10 Aug 00 | Africa
Aids 'killing' Malawi MPs
11 Sep 00 | Africa
Malawi plans anti-HIV law
26 Mar 00 | Africa
Malawi gets cash for Aids battle
25 Aug 00 | Africa
Malawi rejects Aids loan
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