Feature: Battle against cholera outbreak continues in Malawi

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LILONGWE, Jan. 25 (Xinhua) -- It's been hectic days for environmental health workers, clinicians and nurses working at the Bwaila Hospital cholera camp in Lilongwe, the capital of Malawi.

The health workers have seen cholera patients flooding the main camp at the hospital -- many making it back home after being treated, while some dying in the process and their bodies being taken to the provisional mortuary just next to the camp.

"The situation here is very pathetic. It's very sad and emotionally disturbing to walk into the mortuary to prepare and disinfect a body, then you realize it belongs to a patient you just welcomed earlier, or the day before, into the camp for admission," Marnisha Moyo, one of the environmental health officers explained to Xinhua in an interview.

Moyo, 24, had just finished disinfecting a body, the eleventh in her shifts since she joined fellow health workers at the facility on Jan. 1 as an intern, according to her.

Collins Nkhulanze, a clinical technician, also described the situation as alarming. However, he hailed support from the government and partners in deploying human resources like Moyo to beef up the overstrained existing staff at the facility.

The disease broke out in Malawi way back in March 2022, and it has since affected all the 28 districts of the country.

As of Jan. 24, the sub-Saharan country had registered 30,621 cases with 28,504 recoveries and 1,002 deaths, while 1,115 patients were still in treatment camps across the country, according to data released by the Ministry of Health.

Of the cumulative recorded figures, over 10,300 cases and 321 deaths have been recorded in the first three weeks of January alone, according to a tally of figures for daily updates from Jan. 1 to 20 released by the Presidential Task Force on Coronavirus and Cholera.

The outbreak is the worst ever in two decades, according to the country's Director of Preventive Health Services (DPHS), Storn Kabuluzi. "The current outbreak has presented an unprecedentedly high number of cases and a higher than expected case fatality rate of 3.4 percent."

"The last time we experienced an outbreak of this magnitude in the country was in 2001-2002 when we reported 33,546 cases and 968 deaths," he said.

The DPHS attributed the cholera spread to the geographical setup of the areas as well as illegal settlements in some of the peri-urban areas where the town or city planning is not able to provide safe water, and does not follow proper sewage systems.

The Malawian government declared cholera a public health emergency on Dec. 5, and on Jan. 10, the government appealed to public and private sectors, and international partners for donations to support the fight against the outbreak.

Kabuluzi acknowledges that following the declaration and appeal, there has been financial and technical support from local, regional and international partners to support the response and address some of the gaps and challenges being faced.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has supported Malawi's efforts in the cholera fight with 2.9 million doses of Oral Cholera Vaccine (OCV), and on Dec. 13, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) handed over lifesaving supplies worth about 300,000 U.S. dollars to support Malawi's fight against the cholera outbreak.

The international medical humanitarian organization, Doctors Without Borders (MSF), has also been supporting Malawi's fight against cholera by setting up fully equipped cholera treatment units (CTUs) in some parts of the country.

Despite the support that the country is getting from various partners, the outbreak continues to pose challenges as figures of new cases and deaths keep escalating.

"There are several challenges which include inadequate resources for community engagement and interpersonal communication to communicate risk, and inadequate resources for case investigation, follow-up and contact tracing," explained Kabuluzi.

"We also have inadequate supplies such as testing kits, ORS, IV fluids, and chlorine, which are critical supplies for the prevention and treatment of cholera for outbreak containment," he said.

Other challenges, as outlined by the DPHS, include inadequate staff for case management in cholera treatment centers, as well as for community rehydration points.

Kabuluzi called for more support and investment to curb low latrine coverage and low access to safe water in some parts of the country.

Over and above, Malawi has run out of cholera vaccines at the time the outbreak is spiking. "We need more Oral Cholera Vaccines for reactive campaigns in the high-risk areas reporting cholera cases despite the low supplies of OCV due to global shortage. The 2.9 million doses that we received have been utilized, however, the coverage in the high-risk areas has not been good because people have not been coming forward," said Kabuluzi. Enditem

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