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Malawi’s worst cholera outbreak on record has left more than 1,000 people dead even as cases have reached over 30 000.
The death toll announced last Tuesday breached a grim milestone and surpassed the largest recorded outbreak, which killed 968 people between 2001 and 2002, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
Health minister Khumbize Chiponda last Wednesday called on people to take extra care handling the bodies of cholera victims before funerals.
“People who are dying from cholera may be washed by family members who then prepare funeral feasts… outbreaks of cholera commonly follow these feasts,” she said.
Chiponda also urged people to use proper decontamination procedures with chlorine and plastic body bags.
Most of the deaths occurred in the two main cities of Lilongwe and Blantyre where children have recently gone back to class after schools delayed opening to try and contain the spread.
In November 2022, Malawi received nearly three million doses of oral cholera vaccine from the United Nations to step up its immunisation campaign but case numbers continue to rise.
Health ministry spokesman Adrian Chikumbe revealed that all doses had been used.
He added that “the fact that there is only one cholera vaccine manufacturer worldwide makes it difficult to acquire the life-saving drug”, creating competition between countries in need.
Meanwhile, George Jobe, director of the non-profit Malawi Health Equity Network, says that myths and misinformation spreading online were worsening the already dire situation.
“Most people don’t believe we have cholera,” he said. Additionally, “some religions do not permit their [sick] members to go to the hospital.”
Cholera affects between 1.3 million and four million people worldwide each year, causing up to 143,000 deaths.