Southern African countries face “terrifying and overwhelming” cholera outbreak: Oxfam


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Southern African countries including Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia, and Zimbabwe are facing an unprecedented surge of cholera cases, warns Oxfam. The situation could become uncontrollable and difficult to manage due to the steady increase of COVID-19 cases and the onset of the rainy season in the region which has further compromised hygiene among vulnerable communities – a majority of whom have no access to clean water and sanitation facilities.

Southern African countries need to address some systemic public health issues that are fueling the spread of cholera outbreak, including ensuring that people have access to improved sanitation, waste management, and safe clean water.

In the last seven days, Zambia alone has recorded 3 468 new cases and 124 deaths, including babies, on top of more than 9500 cases and 374 deaths since October 2023. In just one week to January 4, Zambia’s Ministry of Health reported a 71.2% jump in cases and 175% more deaths in the country’s capital, Lusaka. The Zambian government has been forced to delay the reopening of schools by three weeks and has designated the 60,000-seat National Heroes Stadium as a treatment centre to ease pressure on health facilities.

Zimbabwe has recorded 1,839 cases and 39 deaths in the last seven days. It has seen 16,568 cases and 67 confirmed deaths – with a further 297 suspected deaths – since February last year. Mozambique suffered its deadliest cholera outbreak in 25 years between 2022 and 2023 when it had over 37,000 cholera cases. In the last 24 hours, Mozambique has recorded 74 new cases.

Malawi, which declared the outbreak a public health emergency last year, has put out a higher alert following the surge in Zambia. The country recorded 47 cases and two deaths between November and December 2023, totaling 1700 deaths since the outbreak in November 2022.

“The unprecedented rate of cases and deaths is terrifying, and utterly overwhelming the health systems of these countries. The outbreak is spiraling into an uncontrollable health crisis and news that health workers in Zambia are also testing positive for COVID-19 calls for an urgent multipronged response,” said Machinda Marongwe, Oxfam in Southern Africa Programme Director.

“Governments and agencies in the region need immediate funding to swiftly implement activities and projects that would help improve people’s hygiene and access to clean water since these two factors are key in the fight against the spread”.