19 January 2023
UN INTENSIFIES EFFORTS TO CURB CHOLERA OUTBREAK
Cholera is an acute diarrhoeal infection caused by ingestion of food or water contaminated with the bacterium Vibrio cholerae. It takes between 12 hours and 5 days for a person to show symptoms after ingesting contaminated food or water. Cholera affects both children and adults and can kill within hours if untreated. Cholera transmission is closely linked to inadequate access to clean water and sanitation facilities. Typical at-risk areas include peri-urban slums, and camps for internally displaced persons or refugees, where minimum requirements of clean water and sanitation are not met. Cholera is rampant in Malawi with seasonal outbreaks reported during the wet season. Since 1998, cholera cases have been reported in Malawi with significant morbidity and mortality in affected populations, especially in the southern region, which is low-lying, flat, and prone to flooding during the rainy season. The current outbreak, which started in March 2022 has affected all 29 districts of Malawi and represents the largest outbreak reported in the country in the past ten years Since the onset of the outbreak last March, over 23,000 cholera cases have been recorded with nearly 800 preventable deaths. Last month alone, authorities reported over 7,000 new cases and nearly 300 deaths. As all 29 districts of the country have been affected, the government declared a public health emergency on December 5 2022. The government-led presidential task force on cholera decided to delay the opening of schools in the country’s two biggest cities, which affected nearly 1 million children. But learners returned to class on 17 January. In response to the situation, the UN team in Malawi, led by Resident Coordinator Rebecca Adda-Dontoh, is intensifying its joint support for national authorities as the country is facing the worst cholera outbreak in two decades. To avoid students falling further behind after years of COVID interruptions, UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is ensuring Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) facilities are in place in schools, while World Food Programme (WFP) has distributed hygiene items, reaching over 600,000 learners. UNICEF and World Health Organization (WHO) are furthermore working with health authorities to train health care workers on cholera case management. They also provided nearly 60 urgently needed staff, 438,000 Oral Rehydration Solution (ORS) doses and 1,324,400 water purification tablets. Additionally, both UN entities supported the national Oral Cholera Vaccination campaign, which delivered 2.9 million doses to at risk populations. UNICEF has just handed over $300,000 in further life-saving supplies, such as Acute Watery Diarrheal kits, tents and antibiotics, which will be distributed to cholera treatment centres immediately. Despite the continuing efforts in the national cholera outbreak response, and the need to intensify efforts, significant gaps exist. This includes the urgent need to strengthen surveillance system for early detection and management; increase quality case management at cholera treatment units; provide critical supplies required to manage cholera cases and for water treatment, personal hygiene and water storage at the household level; increase timely community engagement and dissemination of communications around cholera prevention, and positive hygiene practices. The UN is therefore, appealing to partners and donors for additional funds and support to address these challenges and enable them to better support the Government in its efforts to contain the outbreak.