George Mhango, Blantyre

Malawi authorities have intensified their efforts to deal with cases of Cholera through awareness along the borders with Zambia, Tanzania and Mozambique.

This comes as the International NGO WaterAid issued a statement on Friday, saying that as Zambia fights to contain its worst cholera outbreak since 2017, cases are already being reported in other countries in the region like Zimbabwe, Mozambique, and South Africa.

WaterAid says Zambia is recording over 400 new cases of cholera a day, with young people significantly impacted.

Cholera transmission is closely linked to inadequate access to clean water and sanitation facilities.

Currently, schools and colleges remain closed, and one of the leading football stadiums in the capital, Lusaka, has been turned into a treatment Centre.

With these cases in Zambia, WaterAid has since zeroed in with support to a government-led coalition to try to contain the spread further.

Furthermore, WaterAid has warned that there may be a further rise in cases across the region without addressing the root cause of Cholera –a lack of clean water and sanitation (WASH).

While it is essential to deal with the current emergency, the NGO urges leaders to allocate adequate financial and human resources to address the long-term infrastructure issues.

WaterAid Regional Director Robert Kampala said: “Cholera reflects deep inequality status of society and the inadequacy of sustainable water, sanitation and hygiene access, especially among poorer communities.”

Across the SADC Region, in recent years–particularly in Zambia, Malawi, and Mozambique, there have been serious consequences of slow progress in water and sanitation funding, with lives lost and livelihoods needlessly destroyed.

Kampala added: “These frequent cholera emergencies affect not only people and communities. They also undermine economies, productivity, and economic growth.

“We urgently need to see investment in water and sanitation increased at pace –this will save lives and, safeguard livelihoods and equip the region to deal with the disease in a sustainable way to ensure that it becomes a thing of the past.

“By taking a pro-active stance, national governments will be able to save precious resources and boost economic development.”

The statistics show the SADC suffers inadequate access to WASH, leading to higher vulnerability to cholera and other pandemics.

UNICEF data indicates that since the first known case in Zambia in October 2023, more than 200,000 cases and over 3000 deaths have been reported.

Provision of safe water and basic sanitation, and hygiene practices is critical to prevent and control the transmission of cholera and other waterborne diseases.

In Mozambique, primary access to hygiene at the household level is very low, at around 26%. It is estimated at 15% in schools and in healthcare facilities at 40%.

The proportion of the population practicing open defecation is estimated at 20.7%.

For the short term, WaterAid urges national governments to:

» Provide adequate resources and increase the capacities of public institutions to deal with and arrest the ongoing outbreak;

» Step up public awareness education and information dissemination on Cholera, especially among marginalized and poorer communities that have limited access to clean water, sanitation, and good hygiene;

» Provide the required toolkits such as clean water, hand washing soap, hand washing stations, and chlorine tablets, amongst others, to ensure that those that are directly affected can better cope with the outbreak;

» Support and strengthen the capacities of health workers who may be overwhelmed by the ongoing situation.

Safe handling and disinfection of human excreta in cholera treatment centers (CTC) are key to preventing the new outbreaks. Photo by WaterAid Nigeria.

For the medium to long term, WaterAid urges national governments:

In line with the SADC Regional Hygiene Strategy and the NGO Commitments, SADC Member states should ensure universal access to resilient, inclusive, and sustainable WASH and address the root causes by:

» Allocating adequate financial, human, and technical resources to address current limited WASH facilities and infrastructure by progressively allocating a minimum of 0.5% of annual GDP

» Focusing on the poorest, most marginalized, and unserved aimed at progressively eliminating inequalities in access and use and implement national and local strategies with an emphasis on equity and sustainability;

» Enabling and engaging the private sector in developing innovative sanitation and hygiene products and services, especially for the marginalized and unserved.

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