- Cholera is overwhelming health services in three Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries.
- Only three countries in the region have the capacity to deal with outbreaks.
- The SADC, World Health Organisation, and Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention are seeking ways to ensure that countries can adequately respond to the fast-spreading disease.
In Zambia, schooling is being disrupted; in Zimbabwe, children are hardest hit; and in Malawi, health services are compromised by widespread cholera outbreaks.
Meanwhile, only three countries in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) have the capacity to deal with the water-borne disease, experts say.
This came out of an extraordinary virtual meeting of health ministers from the SADC, as well as officials from the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) on Saturday, who sought ways to deal with the growing crisis.
Across the continent, cholera data shows that 12 countries are “in acute phase, with recurrent cases over two years”, said WHO regional director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti. More vaccines and better sanitation provision are urgently required.
The only three SADC countries considered equal to the task are South Africa, Botswana and Namibia.
So far, the WHO has deployed more than 140 public health experts to affected countries, spent around R190 million, and provided at least 20 tons of emergency supplies.
The cholera outbreak coinciding with the rainy season has been so devastating that there’s going to be an urgent SADC summit on 30 January, convened by the Africa CDC.
Dr Jean Kaseya, the director-general of the Africa CDC, and Angolan Health Minister Sílvia Paula Valentim Lutucuta will lead the meeting.
In Zambia, cholera has killed more than 484 people out of 11 000 cases since October last year. Children are the most affected, with the 2024 school calendar delayed by two weeks.
The school closures mean that 4.5 million pupils’ education hangs in the balance.
Jo Musonda, country director for Save The Children in Zambia, said, from experience, such delays in the academic year could result in some children never returning to school.
“We know from the Covid-19 pandemic that the longer children are out of school, the less likely they are to go back at all, putting them at risk of child marriage, forced labour, violence, abuse and exploitation,” he said.
According to the WHO, there’s an 81% funding gap to fight cholera in Zambia, which requires at least R85 million.
Zimbabwean Health Minister Douglas Mombeshora said half of the cholera cases in the country were recorded in children under the age of 15.
“Among the reported cholera cases to date, 31% were under 15 years of age while 14% were under five years of age,” he said during the handover of cholera medicines and commodities from donors on Saturday.
Zimbabwe has recorded 20 446 cholera cases and 452 deaths.
Today, the country began distributing oral cholera vaccinations, urgently targeting 800 000 people. The ultimate target, according to Zimbabwe’s health ministry, is the vaccination of 2.3 million children
Meanwhile, Malawi has had the deadliest outbreak. By mid-December, health officials had recorded 1 771 deaths out of almost 60 000 cases.