‘Children face acute risk for cholera outbreak’


By Saeed Kamali Dehghan & Charles Pensulo:

With more than 50,000 cases of chol­era detected so far, children face an acute risk of the disease, authorities say.

“Malawi is experiencing the deadliest cholera outbreak in its re­corded history. The country is also struggling to respond to a polio out­break and ongoing Covid-19 cases across the nation,” Rudolf Schwenk, the country representative for the UN children’s fund, Unicef, said in a press briefing on Wednesday.


“Resources are limited, the health system is overburdened, and health workers are stretched to their limits,” he added.

On Wednesday, Unicef and the WHO began a vaccination campaign in earthquake-hit areas in north-west Syria, with 1.7m doses expected to be delivered to people above the age of one.

Half the children are in need of humanitarian aid. Almost a quarter of a million children under five are expected to be acutely malnourished, and more than 60,000 severely mal­nourished, by the end of the month, Schwenk said.


“As a severely malnourished child is 11 times more likely to die from cholera than a well-nourished child, a bout of cholera may amount to a death sentence for thousands of children in Malawi,” he said.

Last week, the UN World Me­teorological Organization said that Malawi could see heavy rains in the south of the country as cyclone Fred­dy hits the region in the coming days, aggravating the situation.

Cholera, transmitted by taking in contaminated food or water, is often a mild infection, but can kill within hours if left untreated. It can be treat­ed with intravenous fluids and antibi­otics in severe cases.

A spokesperson for the Soci­ety of Medical Doctors in Malawi, Zaziwe Fatsani Gunda, said unsafe drinking water and poor sanitation were big problems in cities like Li­longwe and Blantyre, both of which have high numbers of cholera cases. The current economic crisis in the country is also a factor.

“People would rather opt for cheaper sources of water than using piped water, which comes at a cost,” Gunda said.

Last month, the World Health Organization said 22 countries are fighting outbreaks of cholera cur­rently, including Syria and Haiti. But the health agency warned that only 37 million doses of vaccine were be­lieved to be available this year.

In October, the WHO was forced to ration vaccine doses.

George Jobe, health rights activ­ist and executive director at Malawi Health Equity Network, praised a campaign launched last month to help curb the outbreak.

The initiative aims to increase access to treatment for cholera, in­crease access to safe water and pro­mote food hygiene and raise aware­ness of the disease among health workers, traditional and religious leaders.

But, Jobe added: “The fight is still on and we need more resources to raise awareness.”

Cholera has been endemic in Malawi since the late 1990s, but a phenomenon that is usually season­al, limited to between November and May, has this time persisted and spread to all of Malawi’s 28 dis­tricts.— The Guardian UK

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