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Cholera ravages Koche hospital

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DESPERATE—Patients lie in an open space

It is the busiest section of the hospital. Two tents that form the main part of the treatment centre are fully occupied.

Close to the tents are two branchy trees under which patients who did not find space in the tents lie.

Scova Francis, 72, is one of those who were not lucky enough to get space in the tents. His left hand bears an almost empty intravenous (IV) therapy drip which is tied to a small tree branch.

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Once in a while, Francis turns his body for comfort. He is clearly in agony.

“He is the third person to suffer from cholera in our family the past two weeks. I lost my 11-year-old son to the disease,” Patuma Scova, who is Francis’s daughter, says.

From October 4, Koche Community Hospital in Mangochi has registered 12 cholera-related deaths having admitted about 644 patients as of Wednesday.

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The majority of cholera patients which the facility is helping are children under the age of 15 years, according to health officials.

Assistant Environmental Health Officer for Mangochi, who is overseeing cholera interventions in Maldeco, Makawa and other areas surrounding Koche Hospital, Jessie Kapira, says most patients above 15 years old are fishermen.

“The first case that we registered here was a minor. They had gone to swim in the lake before he started suffering from cholera the following day,” Kapira says.

Others, who joined the minor on the swimming mission, also contracted the sanitation-related condition that has claimed at least 214 lives in the country.

Women, who have been doing dishes and washing clothes at the lake, have also been among those swarming the rural hospital in search of treatment.

“This already suggests that the lake is contaminated. Cases in areas where people have agreed to stop going to the lake for swimming and washing have significantly declined,” Kapira says.

She admits that some people are not complying with instructions that they should take a break from visiting the lake; hence, the continuous spread of the disease.

“Things might get worse with the coming of the rains. Our advice is that people should stay away from the lake, otherwise, we will lose more lives,” Kapira complains.

Another habit that is reportedly contributing to the rise in cholera cases is consumption of cooked food in areas surrounding Koche Hospital.

Integrated Disease Surveillance and Response Officer for Mangochi, Stanley Rashid, says a decision to outlaw the selling of cooked food during a time like this can be made by the district council after putting in place relevant bylaws.

Rashid maintains that the district health office (DHO) is doing all it can to contain the spread of the disease traditionally known to thrive during the rainy season.

“We tested water in the lake for cholera and the results came out positive. Sadly, people continue using this water. We appeal to them to stop using the water because they are putting their lives at risk,” he says.

He adds that the DHO is now engaging community policing members in areas around the hospital who are controlling movements to the lake.

Aluwell Banda, who is in charge of the Clinical Department at Koche Hospital, has since appealed to government and other well-wishers to support the Christian Health Association of Malawi-owned facility with supplies to respond to the crisis.

Banda says since the hospital first registered a case, it has been using its resources to treat patients, thereby straining its budget.

“We have handled the majority of cholera cases with our money. We could not bill the patients because most of them came while in very critical conditions,” Banda says.

He reveals that the hospital is already running out of IV fluid, the most effective treatment for cholera.

“One patient died while we watched because we had no IV fluid to give him. It is very painful to see people dying in situations which would otherwise be controlled,” Banda says.

In the meantime, the facility, which has received support from Médecins Sans Frontières, is also appealing to the DHO to train more healthcare workers on cholera treatment so that they competently handle patients.

Nevertheless, Kapira is optimistic that the sensitisation activities that the office is conducting in the affected locations will reduce the spread of the disease.

She says the DHO is also distributing chlorine to households and fishermen for treating water.

As of Tuesday, Mangochi had recorded at least 867 cholera cases of which 644 were registered at Koche Community Hospital alone.

In the lakeshore district, at least 16 people have succumbed to the disease first registered in Machinga on March 2.

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