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About 750 Malawians die in the worst cholera outbreak in decades

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Some 750 people have died of cholera, a government minister said on Thursday, in Malawi’s worst cholera outbreak in two decades.

The head of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, has described the southeastern African country as among the hardest hit amid ongoing global pandemics that are “more widespread and deadly than usual”.

On Thursday, Malawian Health Minister Khumbes Kanudodo Chibunda ordered the closure of several businesses that lacked safe water, toilets and sanitary waste disposal facilities, and announced restrictions on the sale of pre-cooked food.

“We continue to record an increasing number of cases across the country, despite signs of declining transmission and deaths in a few areas,” Chibunda said in a statement, urging adherence to sanitation and hygiene measures.

On Wednesday, Chibunda said 17 people have died from 589 new cases of the waterborne illness “during the past 24 hours.” She said the country had registered 22,759 patients since the start of the outbreak in March last year.

The figures show around 15 people have died a day recently, with 155 deaths recorded in the past 10 days. In addition, nearly 1,000 people had been hospitalized as of Wednesday.

This week, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said 31 countries had reported cholera outbreaks since December, a 50% increase on previous years.

“While we have seen large cholera outbreaks before, we have never seen such a large number of simultaneous outbreaks,” Tedros said, adding that Malawi, Haiti and Syria are among the worst affected countries.

Last year, the World Health Organization and its partners switched to a single dose of the standard cholera vaccine instead of the usual two doses due to supply problems.

“Production is currently at maximum capacity, and despite this unprecedented decision, stocks are still very low,” Tedros said, adding that four more countries have ordered vaccines in the past few weeks.

The World Health Organization has previously blamed the unprecedented global rise in cholera on complex humanitarian crises in countries with fragile health systems exacerbated by climate change. Rising temperatures and increased precipitation facilitate the multiplication and spread of cholera-causing bacteria.

14 African countries have reported cases of cholera, many of which are due to floods across the continent, Africa CDC director Ahmed Oguel Oma told reporters during a weekly online briefing. In addition, a large proportion of the continent’s 1.3 billion people lack access to safe water, sanitation and good hygiene.

Oma said 393 deaths out of just over 4,000 new cases were reported over the past week in Africa, with Malawi the epicenter of the outbreak.

Uma said the country of about 20 million people had recorded 71% of cases and 88% of deaths in the past week.

Some people blamed a lack of basic services such as safe water and sanitation for the outbreak in the capital, Lilongwe.

I ate and drank in the markets without washing my hands. “I was not careful, but also there is no water in these places,” said Kundwani Malaysian, 24, an auto mechanic from the crowded town of Ngwenya in Lilongwe. He said he was hospitalized with cholera last week.

Lilongwe and Blantyre, the economic hub in the south of the country, are the worst affected. Many public places, such as crowded markets, do not have tap water, while people have to dig wells at home or draw water from unsafe sources such as rivers and streams – contributing factors to outbreaks of cholera.

Epidemiologist Adamson Mulla told the Associated Press (AP) that the outbreak is affecting the “extreme poor” who lack access to safe water and sanitation.

“People who have potable water tanks, potable water from taps in homes, and those who fortify themselves by not eating food from questionable places are not at risk,” said Mola, a lecturer at Kamuzu University of Health Sciences in Blantyre. He blamed the ruling elites for failing to invest in infrastructure.

People who are not served by the municipal water supply system. Mola said people who defecate in the bush and other open spaces, drink from open water sources, and live in communities where various water companies can fail to provide tap water for days are affected. “It becomes difficult to control such a disease as the bourgeoisie feels indifferent.”

On Thursday, Health Minister Chibunda announced a ban on selling pre-cooked foods on the streets, local markets, bus stations and schoolyards. It also ordered the closure of all marketing, transportation, travel, sports, religious and recreational facilities lacking potable water, functional toilets and “orderly and sanitary” waste disposal facilities.

She also said that the government plans to expand the water pipe network and deliver water by truck to people living in the slums of Lilongwe and Blantyre. Schools in the two regions that had delayed openings in early January are scheduled to reopen on January 17. This came after the government pledged to provide safe drinking water and reconnect piped water that had stopped in some schools in Lilongwe and Blantyre, according to Chibunda. .

This week the country appealed for donations of cholera beds, tents, buckets of water, rehydration salts, medical supplies and cash.

In November, WHO and partners sent nearly 3 million cholera vaccines to Malawi. Cholera is an acute diarrheal disease spread through contaminated water and food, and it can cause severe dehydration. It is a bacterial disease that affects both children and adults. Left untreated, up to 30% of cholera cases can be fatal; In extreme cases, the disease can kill within hours.

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