Ministry of Health (MoH) has put 16 of the country’s 28 districts on high alert for cholera, an acute diarrhoeal infection caused by ingestion of food and water contaminated with the bacterium vibrio cholerae.
MoH says it requires K700 000 to procure supplies (excluding vaccines) for the 1.6 million population at high risk and cover some operation costs such as awareness campaigns and other administrative issues.
An MoH update on cholera, a disease that can kill within hours if not treated, shows the country has registered about 150 cases so far.
The ministry has also recorded four deaths, three of which occurred in Karonga, the most affected district with 131 registered cases to date.
Nkhata Bay District has 16 registered cases while Kasungu and Dowa reported one case each. As of yesterday, Lilongwe had two registered cases, according to MoH.
MoH has named other high risk districts as Blantyre, Chikwawa, Neno, Phalombe, Machinga, Mangochi, Salima, Nkhotakota, Mwanza, Rumphi and Zomba.
In an interview yesterday, MoH spokesperson Adrian Chikumbe said the ministry is working with partners, including the World Health Organisation (WHO), United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) and The Global Fund to contain the outbreak.
He said: “We could not have done it on our own. The vaccines especially are quite expensive and we are grateful that aspect has been taken care of by our partners.”
Chikumbe, who said WHO is providing technical support in fighting the disease, said MoH requires money for supplies, communication and other administrative costs. He said the ministry was engaging the Office of the President and Cabinet (OPC) and the Department of Disaster Management Affairs (Dodma) for assistance.
He said so far, government has managed to vaccinate 600 000 people in Neno, Chikwawa, Phalombe, Zomba, Machinga, Salima and at Dzaleka Refugee Camp in Dowa.
Chikumbe said the ministry was mainly concerned with the outbreak in Karonga which was the worst affected and has killed three.
He said: “We plan to vaccinate 100 000 people in the district. The ministry is also strategising on Nkhata Bay, Blantyre and Lilongwe which are considered to be very sensitive. If the situation is not checked in these districts, possible outbreaks will have a disastrous effect.”
Despite the financial hiccups, Chikumbe commended the distribution of the vaccine in some hotspot districts, saying it has helped contain cholera cases.
He said: “If it were not for such interventions, the country would have recorded more cases. We have task force teams on high alert, monitoring the situation and providing support wherever necessary. There is collaboration with partners at central and district levels.”
Chikumbe explained that government has intensified community sensitisation on cholera prevention and control, surveillance and contact tracing, chlorination and sanitation promotion and case management.
Nkhata Bay District Hospital spokesperson Christopher Singini said the lakeshore district is yet to record new cholera cases after it treated the 16 cases.
He expressed optimism that the district will maintain the status quo, having requested for vaccines to fight the outbreak.
In Mchinji, Malawi News Agency (Mana) quoted deputy health promotion officer Frank Kaphaso as having said there were plans to have a cross-border meeting to discuss ways of addressing the problem.
He appealed to communities to report to health surveillance assistants in their area any suspected cases or signs of cholera which include severe diarrhoea.
Following the high number of cases, Karonga district environmental health officer Lewis Tukula recommended that the district needs the vaccine to boost people’s immunity.
However, he said there is also need for behavioural change among communities as the disease thrives in environments of poor sanitation.
Said Tukula: “The major challenge in the fight against the cholera outbreak is resistance to behavioural change by at-risk populations, that is, those still using water from unprotected sources like Lake Malawi and some rivers. People need to ensure that they consume treated water.”
The outbreak in Karonga started after some two businesspersons were infected in Tanzania, where there is also an outbreak.
Meanwhile the disease has also greatly affected neighbouring Zambia with 42 deaths, and close to 2 000 confirmed cases reported so far.
According to international media reports, the Zambian Government has since deployed the army to help fight the cholera outbreak. Among other actions taken by the Zambian Government to contain the outbreak were the closing of markets, banning street vending and church gatherings in Lusaka and Chipata.
According to WHO, cholera is an acute diarrhoeal infection caused by ingestion of food and water contaminated with the bacterium vibrio cholerae. The disease can lead to dehydration and even death if left untreated.