Southern Malawi Records Continued Rise in Cholera Cases

Southern Malawi has started recording a rise in cholera cases, which health authorities blame on flooding from a recent tropical storm and cyclone. More than 30 people have been infected and two have died. UNICEF is intervening to reduce the spread of the disease.

Malawi confirmed the first cholera case March 2 in the Machinga district.

Health authorities say the disease has so far hit the Nsanje and Machinga districts in southern Malawi with a cumulative number of cases now reaching 33. There have been two deaths as of Friday.

“Out of 33 cases, eight cases were still receiving treatment at the cholera treatment center, Ndamera treatment center specifically. We also have a cumulative number of two deaths. The rest were discharged,” said George Mbotwa, the spokesperson for the Nsanje District Health Office.

He says they have put in place measures to prevent and control the further spread of the disease such as surveillance and contact tracing.

“We are also doing health education; health talks in [evacuation] camps where there are a lot of people and of course in surrounding communities. We have also instituted health workers; HSAs (Health Surveillance Assistants) in all uncharted entry points where actually they are conducting health promotion in water treatment efforts, health talks and all that,” he said. 

Cholera is an acute diarrheal infection caused by ingesting food or water contaminated with bacteria. The disease affects both children and adults if untreated and it can kill within hours. Cholera is more common during the rainy season.

Health authorities in Malawi say the disease is largely a result of floods caused by Tropical Storm Ana and Cyclone Gombe, which hit Malawi in the past two months.

Estere Tsoka, an emergency specialist for the U.N.’s children agency, UNICEF, in Malawi, told VOA that UNICEF is making several interventions to control the further spread of the disease.

“UNICEF is supporting the disinfection of household water sources and also chlorination of water sources at community level that got affected by the floods. UNICEF is also supporting sanitation of the cholera treatment centers that have been established so that they should not become a source of infection,” she said.

Tsoka also says plans are underway to procure a cholera vaccine.

“Also there are plans to administer oral cholera vaccine in eight districts of the country. And UNICEF is providing support to bring in the vaccines in the country and also supporting planning processes for the vaccine’s national campaign.” 

Maziko Matemba, the national health ambassador in Malawi, says cholera can be prevented if community health structures are financially empowered to effectively perform their task of educating communities on matters of hygiene and sanitation particularly in flood-prone areas. 

“Because we already know that we normally have cholera and also floods more especially in that part of Malawi because it’s a low-lying area and our rivers do burst when the rains come more than expected,” Matemba said.

The Ministry of Health said in a statement this week that it is distributing chlorine to communities in affected areas for water treatment as well as sending cholera control information to all the people there through various channels of communication.

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