Cholera risk in Malawi climbs after cyclone wreaks more damage

15 March 2023 - 08:00
By Janice Kew
Malawi faces renewed risk of cholera after heavy rains from a tropical cyclone damaged power supplies and other infrastructure.
Image: Bloomberg Malawi faces renewed risk of cholera after heavy rains from a tropical cyclone damaged power supplies and other infrastructure.

Malawi, having battled its worst cholera outbreak this year, faces renewed risk of the waterborne diarrheal disease after heavy rains from a tropical cyclone damaged power supplies and other infrastructure.

Cyclone Freddy hit the southern African nation for the second time in a month after bringing downpours and havoc to other African nations including Madagascar and Mozambique.

“The situation is very dire” said Guilherme Botelho, Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) emergency project coordinator in Blantyre, Malawi’s centre of finance and commerce.

“There are many casualties — either wounded, missing, or dead — and the numbers will increase in the coming days.”

The Blantyre district has recorded the highest number of deaths, with the Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital reporting 220 people died. This included 42 adults and 43 children pronounced dead on arrival, MSF, or Doctors Without Borders, said on Tuesday.

Cholera spreads rapidly through contaminated water and efforts to contain the disease have been hampered by a global lack of vaccines. Africa was facing an exponential rise in cases, with infections in January at a third of the level reached in the entire year in 2022, according to the World Health Organization. 

President Lazarus Chakwera declared a state of disaster in Malawi’s southern region, helping the government to accelerate its response to the storm. The country remains the most cholera-affected nation in Africa.

Freddy, which appears to have become the longest-lasting tropical cyclone ever, was named on February 6.

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