Mozambique cholera: Why outbreaks have sparked unrest

False claims about the spread of a cholera outbreak in northern Mozambique have led to violent protests and deaths, according to health officials.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has highlighted instances in which misinformation about the disease has contributed to the unrest.

Through social media posts and local media reports, we’ve looked into some of these protests to understand what was behind the trouble.

In one recent incident, a man was beaten to death in the town of Gurue in Zambezia province by people who falsely accused him of spreading cholera, according to health officials.

The event was captured in a graphic video seen by the BBC that has been circulating on social messaging apps and shows the body of a man with a large crowd looking on.

In another protest, four people were killed as police battled a group attacking homes and property belonging to local officials in Nacala Porto in Nampula province.

Further north in Cabo Delgado province, police fired into the air to disperse a crowd trying to attack a health centre in Meluco district.

What do people believe?

It is unclear what is fuelling the misinformation – which is largely spreading through word of mouth – although our monitoring of social media has provided some insight.

Cholera thrives in conditions where water sanitation is inadequate.

Some online posts claim falsely that measures implemented by local health officials, such as adding chlorine to water supplies and the use of purifiers, are in fact spreading the disease.

The BBC’s Jose Tembe in Maputo says almost all violent cases related to cholera stem from misinformation.

“Also targeted are grassroots leaders who mobilise people to use the purifiers. The leaders are falsely thought to be part of the alleged group spreading the water-borne disease,” he says.

In a caption accompanying the video of the killing in Garue, the victim was alleged to have distributed infected “dust” at a property in the area.

The WHO Africa representative in Mozambique, Severin von Xylander, says misinformation is dangerous because it can fuel behaviour that drives the spread of disease.

Mozambique has been battling an outbreak of the disease since September last year.

It’s just one of many countries in the region facing rising cases of cholera, including South Africa, Malawi, Zimbabwe, DR Congo and Kenya.

“This, in turn, undermines trust in health authorities, which hampers public health responses and ultimately prolongs outbreaks.”

Source: BBC