1,000 deaths and 30,621 cholera cases—the most ever recorded—have been reported in Malawi.
It was found that most of the deaths were in the cities of Lilongwe and Blantyre, which delayed the opening of schools to try and contain the disease.
During the funeral procession of cholera victims, Health Minister Khumbize Chiponda called for people to be extra careful when handling the bodies.
According to the minister, chlorinated water and plastic bags should be used for proper decontamination procedures.
The minister called for people to use proper decontamination procedures with chlorine and plastic body bags.
A total of 30,621 cases and 1,002 deaths have been confirmed since the outbreak began, resulting in a case fatality rate of 3.27%, she added.
A WHO program distributed 2.7 million doses of cholera vaccine to clinics in the country, but supplies are running low, according to health officials last week.
On March 3, 2022, the Ministry of Health announced an outbreak of cholera in the country.
Cholera in Malawi: situation at a glance
According to WHO reports, the wet season is the peak time for outbreaks of cholera in Malawi.
Cholera cases have plagued the country since 1998, resulting in significant morbidity and mortality, especially in the south due to its low-lying, flat, and flood-prone terrain. The population displaced due these floods becomes an easy target of cholera.
Cholera frequently strikes the south-African nation during the rainy season from November to March, but the contamination spiked during and after the festive season this time. Approximately 100 deaths are recorded each year.
This outbreak is traced to tropical storm Ana (January 2022) and Cyclone Gombe (March 2022) which caused floods, displacing a population with low immunity that now lacks access to safe water, sanitation, and hygiene.
Malawi has cholera cases due to low immunity levels in many districts reporting confirmed cases
According to WHO, several factors have contributed to the onset and spread of cholera in the two districts affected by the epidemic, including
- Tropical storms and floods
- Inadequate hygiene and sanitation
- Safe drinking water is limited
- Open defecation
- Delay in seeking care
Some of the other difficulties faced by the nation in this fight are poor capacity for sample collection, transportation, and diagnosis in the affected areas mainly due to the difficult access following floods.
Also, this outbreak poses a threat of cross-border transmission in Mozambique. The country shares a border with Malawi and both countries see a significant cross-border movement of people.
Previously, the country declared an outbreak of wild poliovirus type 1 in February 2022 after a case was found in a young child in the capital city of Lilongwe. This was the first case in Africa since 2015 and was a matter of huge concern as the African continent was announced free of wild poliovirus in 2020.
The healthcare system in Malawi faces many challenges, similar to those in much of sub-Saharan Africa. The average life expectancy in Malawi is 39 years, and there are only two physicians per 100,000 people. Healthcare infrastructure in the country is strained by a high prevalence of HIV, malaria, TB, and other infectious diseases. Malawi’s health system ranks 185th out of 190 countries, according to the World Health Organization Report.