Climate Health

Cholera endemic claims lives of 183 people in Malawi

Malawi cholera

HQ Team

November 8, 2022: At least 183 people have died since March due to a cholera epidemic sweeping Malawi, a landlocked country in southeastern Africa, the WHO stated.

“Cholera is endemic in Malawi with seasonal outbreaks reported during the wet season,” according to a WHO statement.

“Since 1998, cholera cases have been reported in the country with significant morbidity and mortality in affected populations, especially in the southern region, which is low-lying, flat, and prone to flooding during the rainy season.”

The current outbreak, which started in March 2022, has affected 27 of 29 districts of Malawi and represents the most significant outbreak reported in the country in the past ten years. 

Tropical storms

The outbreak is taking place in the context of tropical storm Ana (January 2022) and Cyclone Gombe (March 2022), which caused floods leading to the displacement of a population with low pre-existing immunity that now lacks access to safe water, sanitation, and hygiene.

The number of cases between March 3 and October 31, 2022, rose to 6,056, including 183 deaths from 27 of 29 districts in Malawi. Active transmission is happening in 23 communities.

Five districts, Nkhata Bay, Nkhotakota, Rumphi, Karonga, and Blantyre, account for 79% of the reported cases and 68% of the deaths.

The outbreak originated in the Southern region of Malawi, with cases reported in Nsanje and Machinga districts. Currently, the most affected communities in Malawi are in the northern part of the country. The most affected age groups are 21-30 years, and males are disproportionately affected. 

Linked to safe water

Cholera is an acute enteric infection caused by ingesting the bacteria Vibrio cholera present in contaminated water or food. Inadequate sanitation and insufficient access to safe drinking water are the leading causes of the disease. 

It is a highly virulent disease that can cause severe acute watery diarrhoea resulting in high morbidity and mortality and can spread rapidly, depending on the frequency of exposure, the exposed population and the setting. 

Cholera affects both children and adults and can be fatal within hours if untreated. The incubation period is between12 hours and five days after ingesting contaminated food or water.

It is also known as the blue death. As dehydration racks the body, blood begins to thicken in patients’ veins. The patient’s skin would turn a sickly blue as oxygen levels fell.

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