The worst cholera outbreak in decades has killed 750 people in Malawi

BLANTYRE – The worst cholera outbreak to hit Malawi in two decades has claimed 750 lives, a government minister said, while the head of the World Health Organization named the southeast African country as one of the hardest hit amid an ongoing global epidemic that is “more widespread and deadly.” than usual.”

Malawi’s Health Minister Khumbize Kandoda Chiponda on Thursday ordered the closure of many businesses that lack safe water, toilets and hygienic waste disposal facilities and announced restrictions on the sale of prepared food.

“We continue to record an increase in the number of cases across the country despite ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​a reduction in the number of cases in several areas, said in a statement, and urged sanitation and hygiene.

On Wednesday, Chiponda said 17 people had died from 589 new cases of waterborne disease “in the last 24 hours”. She said the country had recorded 22,759 cases since the outbreak began in March last year.

Figures show that about 15 people are dying every day in recent days, with 155 deaths recorded in the last 10 days. Nearly 1,000 people were hospitalized as of Wednesday.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said this week that 31 countries have reported cholera outbreaks since December, a 50% increase over previous years.

“While we’ve had major outbreaks of cholera before, we haven’t seen this many simultaneous outbreaks,” Tedros said, adding that Malawi, along with Haiti and Syria, were among the hardest-hit countries.

Last year, WHO and its partners switched to one dose of the standard cholera vaccine instead of the usual two doses due to supply problems.

“Currently, production is at maximum capacity and despite this unprecedented decision, stocks remain very low,” Tedros said, adding that four more countries had requested vaccines in the past few weeks.

The WHO has previously blamed the unprecedented global outbreak of cholera on complex humanitarian crises in countries with fragile health systems that are being exacerbated by climate change. Warmer temperatures and increased rainfall make it easier for the bacteria that cause cholera to multiply and spread.

CDC Africa Director Ahmed Ogwel Uma told reporters during a weekly online briefing on Thursday that 14 African countries have reported cholera cases, many linked to flooding on the continent. A significant proportion of the continent’s 1.3 billion people lack access to safe water, sanitation and good hygiene.

Uma said last week in Africa, where Malawi is the epicenter of the outbreak, there were 393 deaths out of just over 4,000 new cases.

The country of about 20 million people recorded 71% of cases and 88% of deaths last week, Uma said.

In the capital, Lilongwe, some people blame the outbreak on a lack of basic services such as safe water and sanitation.

“I ate and drank in the markets without washing my hands. I was not careful but there is no water in these places either,” said Kondwani Malizani, 24, a car mechanic from Lilongwe’s crowded Ngwenya township. He said he was hospitalized with cholera last week.

Lilongwe and the city of Blantyre, an economic center in the south of the country, were the worst hit. Many public places, such as busy markets, do not have tap water, while people are forced to dig wells at home or fetch water from unsafe sources such as rivers and streams – factors that contribute to cholera outbreaks.

Epidemiologist Adamson Muula told the AP that the outbreak is affecting the “very poor” who lack access to safe water and sanitation.

“People who have functioning toilets, drinking water from taps in their homes and those who fortify themselves by not eating in questionable places are mostly not at risk,” said Muula, a lecturer at Kamuzu University of Health Sciences in Blantyre. He accused the ruling elites of failing to invest in infrastructure.

“People who are not served by the city’s water supply. Affected people who defecate in the bushes and other open places, drink from open water sources, as well as those who live in settlements where various water supply companies may not provide water from the tap for several days in a row. said Muula. “Such a disease becomes difficult to control because the bourgeois feel indifferent.”

Health Minister Chiponda on Thursday announced a ban on the sale of cooked food on the streets, local markets, bus parks and school yards. She also ordered the closure of all marketing, transport and tourism, sports, religious and entertainment facilities that lack safe water, functional toilets and “organized and hygienic” waste disposal facilities.

She also said the government plans to expand the water supply network and also deliver water by trucks to people living in slums in Lilongwe and Blantyre. Schools in two districts that were delayed in early January will reopen on January 17. This comes after the government promised to provide safe drinking water and restore water supply that had been cut off in some schools in Lilongwe and Blantyre, Chiponda said. .

This week, the country appealed for donations of cholera beds, tents, buckets of water, rehydration salts, medicine and money.

In November, WHO and partners sent nearly 3 million cholera vaccines to Malawi. Cholera is an acute diarrheal disease that spreads through contaminated water and food and can cause severe dehydration. It is a bacterial disease that affects both children and adults. If left untreated, up to 30% of cholera cases can be fatal, and in extreme cases, the disease can lead to death within hours.

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Farai Mutsaka in Harare, Zimbabwe contributed to this report.

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