Foiling cholera spread, keeping learners safe

SAVE LIVES—Cholera vaccines

By Isaac Kambwiri, contributor:

What started as one of those usual eruptions has turned out to be the deadliest outbreak in the country’s history, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Cholera has been raging for close to a year now, the country’s first case having been registered in March last year, hard on the heels of two tropical storms which lashed several districts in Malawi.


By Saturday, the country had registered at least 45,402 cases out of which 1,456 patients have died.

However, there has been a reduction in cases in recent days thanks to concerted efforts of government and its partners after the Presidential Taskforce on Covid and Cholera appealed for donations towards the fight.

In a statement issued early last month, the taskforce said the support could be in the form of medical supplies such as ringers lactate, giving sets, cholera beds, tents, examination and heavy-duty gloves, gumboots and solar lamps.


The taskforce also asked for buckets with taps, aprons and soap, chlorine, oral rehydration salts and the renovation or construction of sanitary facilities to support schools to improve the water and sanitation facilities as well as cash.

“The donations are expected to cover gaps currently being experienced in the prevention, control and management of the cases across the country,” a statement signed by Health Minister Khumbize Kandodo Chiponda and taskforce co-chair Wilfred Chalamira Nkhoma said.

One of the organisations that have pumped resources into the fight against the outbreak, which thrives in places where sanitation and hygiene is poor, is Alliance One.

The tobacco buying and processing company has provided sanitary items to be used in curbing the spread of waterborne diseases such as cholera.

Alliance One Tobacco Malawi Director of Human Resource, Emmanuel Banda, says the company felt compelled to respond to government’s appeal “as a responsible corporate citizen.”

The company has reached out to primary schools in the Central Region with sanitary items to keep learners safe in the midst of the outbreak.

“We contributed the items to the taskforce because we thought it wise to take part in the actual fight against the outbreak within the context of our corporate social responsibility.

“Our focus in on complementing government efforts in improving living standards of people in the country through initiatives in sectors such as health, water and sanitation,” Banda says.

After cases spiked in Lilongwe and Blantyre, the Ministry of Education pended the opening of schools in the two cities before they reopened two weeks later.

Then minister of Education Agnes NyaLonje said the decision was aimed at protecting lives of learners from the disease whose outbreak President Lazarus Chakwera has linked to climate change.

“The issue is to balance between protection of life and continuity of learning,” NyaLonje told the media.

And Banda says learners in both primary and secondary schools are among the most at-risk population in terms of the spread of waterborne diseases.

“That is why we directed our donation to the selected primary schools. We have also spent about K280 million through our water and sanitation programme under which boreholes and wells have been drilled in different parts of the country,” Banda says.

In the programme, Alliance One Tobacco has targeted rural areas which often lack clean and potable water.

The majority of people in such areas are tobacco farmers.

The support, in the form of chlorine, hand soaps and water buckets with taps, among other items, is expected to reach 34,000 learners in 19 primary schools in Dowa, Kasungu, Ntchisi, Mchinji and Lilongwe Rural, among others.

“Learners must be safe in school. They must not contract sanitation-related diseases at such places,” Banda says.

Chalamira Nkhoma hailed Alliance One for the support, saying it will significantly improve sanitation in the targeted schools.

He admitted that the government is constrained and continuously needs support from the private sector and civil society groups to effectively suppress the outbreak.

“Cholera has reached alarming levels; so the support such as what we have received from Alliance One is very important in the fight,” Chalamira Nkhoma said.

According to WHO, cholera has been endemic in Malawi since 1998 with seasonal outbreaks reported during the rainy season.

“However, the current outbreak has extended through the dry season, with cases being reported since March 2022,” the United Nations health agency says.

On December 5 last year, compelled by the wide geographical spread and consistently high case fatality, government declared cholera a public health emergency.

All the 29 health districts have been affected, though three of these have not reported any case in the past 14 days.

The outbreak in Malawi is said to be occurring against a backdrop of a surge in cholera eruptions globally, which has constrained the availability of vaccines, tests and treatment.

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