Cholera cases mount to over 1,000 in cyclone-hit Mozambique

Photo: AFP

Cholera has infected at least 1,052 people in Mozambique's cyclone-hit region, the health ministry said Monday in a new report, marking a massive increase from 139 cases reported four days ago.

The mounting cases represent on average more than 200 cases of new infections each day.

Although hundreds have been taken ill with cholera since last week, only one death has been reported so far, tallies compiled by the ministry showed.

A mass vaccination campaign is due to be rolled out on Wednesday as authorities and aid workers are scrambling to avert an epidemic more than two weeks after a devastating cyclone slammed Mozambique.

Some 900,000 doses of oral cholera vaccines have been ordered and were due to arrive in the impoverished country on Monday.

"Vaccination against cholera begins on Wednesday in Beira," a senior Mozambican health official Ussein Isse said.

The central city of Beira is the worst affected, accounting for 959 out of the total 1,052 cases.

The city of more than half-a-million people recorded 247 cases in 24 hours between Sunday and Monday morning.

Cholera is transmitted through contaminated drinking water or food and causes acute diarrhoea.

Cyclone Idai killed more than 700 people across Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe and hundreds of thousands have been left homeless - many of whom have been forced to use dirty water supplies.

Experts have warned that the destruction of drinking water sources and lack of sanitation in overcrowded shelters in Mozambique create breeding grounds for waterborne diseases such as cholera.

To control the outbreak, vast quantities of drinking water and water purification units have been delivered to affected areas.

A publicity blitz to raise awareness of the cholera situation is also under way.

Mozambique says cholera cases up to 271 in cyclone-hit city

Cholera cases among cyclone survivors in Mozambique have jumped to 271, authorities said, a figure that nearly doubled from the previous day.

The Portuguese news agency Lusa cited national health director Ussein Isse, who declared the outbreak of the acute diarrheal disease on Wednesday with just five cases.

So far no cholera deaths have been confirmed, the report said.

Another Lusa report said the death toll in central Mozambique from the cyclone that hit on March 14 had inched up to 501.

Authorities have warned the toll is highly preliminary as flood waters recede and reveal more bodies.

The cholera cases have been discovered in the port city of Beira, whose half-million residents and especially those in crowded, poor neighborhoods are at particular risk.

Children and other patients curled up on bare beds at a treatment center in Beira on Saturday, some with anxious parents by their side.

They had intravenous drips to help replace fluids.

Doctors Without Borders has said it is seeing some 200 likely cholera cases per day in the city, where relief workers are hurrying to restore the damaged water system and bring in additional medical assistance.

The World Health Organization has said some 900,000 cholera vaccine doses are expected to arrive on Monday, with a vaccination campaign starting later in the week.

Cholera is spread by contaminated food and water and can kill within hours if not treated. The disease is a major concern for the hundreds of thousands of cyclone survivors in the southern African nation now living in squalid conditions in camps, schools or damaged homes.

Some drink from contaminated wells or filthy, stagnant water.

As health responders stress the need for better disease surveillance, the United Nations’ deputy humanitarian coordinator in Mozambique, Sebastian Rhodes Stampa, has said all cases of diarrhea are being treated as though they are cholera.

Cholera is endemic to the region, and “it breaks out fast and it travels extremely fast,” he told reporters on Friday.

Doctors Without Borders has said other suspected cholera cases have been reported outside Beira in the badly hit areas of Buzi, Tica and Nhamathanda but the chance of spread in rural areas is smaller because people are more dispersed.

Mozambican officials have said Cyclone Idai destroyed more than 50 health centers in the region, complicating response efforts.

The cyclone also killed at least 259 people in Zimbabwe and 56 in Malawi.

The United Nations has said some 1.8 million people need urgent help across the sodden, largely rural region.

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