Cholera complicates Cyclone Idai emergency in Mozambique

The first cases of cholera have been reported in the cyclone-ravaged Mozambican city of Beira, complicating an already massive and complex emergency in the southern African country.

The announcement of five cases of the water-borne disease follows days of mounting fears that cholera and other diseases could break out in the squalid conditions in which tens of thousands have been living since Cyclone Idai struck on 14 March, killing at least 700 people across the region.

The first cases of the disease were confirmed in Munhava, one of the poorest areas of the hard-hit port city of Beira, the national director of medical assistance, Ussene Isse, told reporters. The city of roughly 500 000 people is still struggling to provide clean water and sanitation.

We did the lab tests and can confirm that these five people tested positive for cholera, said Isse. It will spread. When you have one case, you have to expect more cases in the community.

The World Health Organization is dispatching 900,000 doses of oral cholera vaccine to affected areas from a global stockpile. The shipment is expected to be sent later this week.

Cyclone Idai smashed into Mozambique at about midnight on 14 March before tearing through neighbouring Zimbabwe and Malawi, displacing hundreds of thousands of people and flooding an area of 3,000 sq km.

Cholera has been a major concern for cyclone survivors now living in crowded camps, schools, churches and any land exposed by the still-draining flood waters. The disease is spread by contaminated food and water and can kill quickly.

Last week, the Guardian visited a number of areas, both in the city itself and outside, where those who had fled the storm and subsequent flooding were surviving by collecting standing water from the floods, including from puddles in the city, for cooking and cleaning.

The huge extent of the flooding in the countryside is also feared to have contaminated wells, which villages rely on for clean drinking water.

The disclosure of the cholera outbreak follows a warning by the WHO of a second disaster if water-borne diseases like cholera spread in the devastated region.

Mozambique’s president, Filipe Nyusi, was to address the nation yesterday afternoon about how his government is responding to the cyclone, which has killed more than 460 people in the country and left 1.8 million people in need of urgent help.

Source: The Herald