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Mozambique scrambles to block spread of deadly cholera outbreak


At risk: A baby plays with water in a bucket at a camp for displaced survivors of Cyclone Idai in Beira. AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi
At risk: A baby plays with water in a bucket at a camp for displaced survivors of Cyclone Idai in Beira. AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi

Mozambique is battling to control a fast-spreading cholera outbreak in the cyclone-hit central city of Beira, just as international assistance begins to arrive.

The number of cholera cases jumped to 271 over the weekend although no deaths from the disease had been reported.

More than 500 people have died in Mozambique from Cyclone Idai, which slammed into Beira more than two weeks ago, according to government officials. Another 259 people died in Zimbabwe and 56 in Malawi, bringing the three-nation total to more than 815. Authorities warn the tolls are preliminary as flood waters recede and reveal more bodies.

The Chinese government has sent doctors to fight the cholera outbreak in Beira and Chinese aid workers yesterday sprayed anti-cholera disinfectant in parts of the port city of 500,000.

The World Health Organisation has said 900,000 cholera vaccine doses were expected to arrive today, with a vaccination campaign to start later this week.

The US army joined the international humanitarian aid efforts to Mozambique by airlifting food and relief supplies from South Africa.

The first round-the-clock flights to deliver supplies from the UN World Food Programme started on Saturday and continued yesterday from King Shaka International Airport in Durban, South Africa, said US embassy spokesman Robert Mearkle.

He said the commodities airlifted from Durban were from the World Food Programme’s internal stock.

“Separately from these shipments, the United States has provided nearly $3.4m (€3m)in additional funding for the World Food Programme to deliver approximately 2,500 metric tons of rice, peas, and vegetable oil to affected people in Sofala, Zambezia, and Manica provinces,” said Mr Mearkle.

“This lifesaving emergency food assistance will support approximately 160,000 people for one month.”

The US government has provided nearly $7.3m in humanitarian assistance to help people in Mozambique, Zimbabwe, and Malawi who have been affected by Cyclone Idai, including more than $6.5m from the US Agency for International Development.

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The cholera outbreak in Beira started on Wednesday with five cases of the acute diarrhoeal disease confirmed by national health director Ussein Isse. The number of cases jumped to 271 over the weekend.

Beira’s crowded, poor neighbourhoods are at particular risk. Children and other patients curled up on bare beds at a treatment centre in Beira, some with anxious parents by their side. They had intravenous drips to help replace fluids.

Doctors Without Borders has said it is seeing about 200 likely cholera cases per day in the city, where relief workers are hurrying to restore the damaged water system and bring in additional medical assistance.

Cholera is spread by contaminated food and water and can kill within hours if not treated. The disease is a major concern for the hundreds of thousands of cyclone survivors in the southern African nation now living in squalid conditions in camps, schools or damaged homes. Some drink from contaminated wells or filthy, stagnant water.

As health responders stress the need for better disease surveillance, the United Nations’s deputy humanitarian co-ordinator in Mozambique, Sebastian Rhodes Stampa, has said all cases of diarrhoea are being treated as though they are cholera.

Cholera is endemic to the region, and “it breaks out fast and it travels extremely fast,” he said.

Doctors Without Borders has said other suspected cholera cases have been reported outside Beira in the badly hit areas of Buzi, Tica and Nhamathanda but the chance of spread in rural areas is smaller because people are more dispersed.

Mozambican officials have said Cyclone Idai destroyed more than 50 health centres in the region, complicating response efforts.

The United Nations has said some 1.8 million people need urgent help.

Irish Independent

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