Cholera crisis: Outbreak hits 1,400 cases in flood-ravaged Mozambique

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Cyclone Idai tore apart the city of Beira on March 14, triggering catastrophic flooding and killing more than 700 people in Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi. The rising cases represent on average more than 200 new cases of new infections each day. Around 500 cases were reported on Sunday, with that number shooting up to 1,052 by Monday evening.

That figure is already more than double the 500 beds that are now open in seven cholera treatment centres across the region, although the World Health Organization (WHO) said it plans to “boost the capacity significantly” in the coming days. 

Although hundreds of people have contacted the disease since last week, only two deaths have been confirmed since cyclone Idai struck mid-March, health officials said.

A mass vaccination campaign is scheduled to begin on Wednesday as authorities and aid workers are scrambling to contain the epidemic.  

Some 900,000 doses of oral cholera vaccines arrived in the city of Beira on Tuesday, from the global stockpile for emergency, according to the WHO. 

The number of cholera cases is however still expected to climb due to the increasing number of people reporting to health centres with symptoms, the WHO said in a statement.

“The next few weeks are crucial and speed is of the essence if we are to save lives and limit suffering,” Dr Matshidiso Moeti, Regional Director of WHO Africa, said. 

The scale of the damage to Beira’s water and sanitation infrastructure, together with its dense population, have sparked fears the cholera outbreak will be difficult to put down.  

The port city of more than half-a-million people is the worst affected, accounting for close to a thousand of the total confirmed cases.

Cholera, which is endemic to Mozambique, is transmitted through contaminated drinking water or food and causes acute diarrhoea. It can kill within hours if left untreated.

About 2,000 people were infected in the last outbreak, which ended in February 2018, according to WHO figures. 

Cyclone Idai killed more than 700 people in Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe and left hundreds of thousands homeless – many of whom have since had no choice but to use dirty water supplies. 

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

Vast quantities of drinking water and water purification units have been delivered to affected areas in an attempt to control the disease. 

The aftermath of Idai may prove to be even deadlier, with 1.85 million people displaced after entire villages were submerged and households swept away. 

The deadly cyclone also damaged or destroyed 54 health centres across central Mozambique. 

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