WaterAid warns of regional cholera epidemic in Malawi, other Southern African countries

WaterAid – an international not-for-profit determined to make clean water, decent toilets, and good hygiene normal for everyone, everywhere within a generation – has warned of regional cholera epidemic as the diseases is reportedly spreading fast across Southern African countries, including Malawi.

A statement the organization issued recently highlights lack of access to clean water and sanitation as major drivers of the cholera infection.

“As Zambia fights to contain its worst cholera outbreak since 2017, cases are already being reported in other countries in the region, including Zimbabwe, Malawi, Mozambique, and South Africa. Zambia is recording over 400 new cases of cholera a day, with young people especially impacted. Schools and colleges remain closed and one of the main football stadiums in the capital Lusaka has been turned into a treatment Centre. International NGO WaterAid is supporting a government-led coalition to try to further contain the spread,” reads part of the statement.

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

While emphasizing on the importance of dealing with the current emergency, the organization has urged leaders to allocate adequate financial and human resources to address the longer-term infrastructure issues.

In his remarks, 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.

WaterAid Regional Director, Robert Kampala
WaterAid Regional Director, Robert Kampala

Kampala stated that across the region, in recent years – particularly in Zambia, Malawi and Mozambique – people are witnessing the devastating consequences of slow progress in water and sanitation funding as lives are lost and livelihoods needlessly destroyed.

“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,” he said.

Statistics show that the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) suffers inadequate access to WASH leading to higher vulnerability to cholera and other pandemics.

And according to data from UNICEF, since the first known case in Zambia in October 2023, more than 200, 000 cases and over 3, 000 deaths have been reported. In Mozambique, basic access to hygiene at household level is very low at around 26 percent.1

In schools, it is estimated at 15 percent and in healthcare facilities at 40 percent2. The proportion of the population practising open defecation is estimated at 20.7 percent. 

For the short-term, WaterAid has urged national governments to provide adequate resources and increase capacities of public institutions to deal with and arrest the on-going outbreak.

The organization has also urged governments to step up public awareness education and information dissemination on cholera especially among marginalized and poorer communities which have limited access to clean water, sanitation and good hygiene.

“We further urge national governments to provide the required toolkits such as clean water, handwashing 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 with the on-going situation,” says the statement.

For the medium to long-term, WaterAid is urging national governments 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 percent of annual GDP.

It also urges the governments to focus 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 private sector in developing innovative sanitation and hygiene products and services, especially for the marginalized and unserved.

WaterAid works alongside communities in 22 countries to secure three essentials that transform people’s lives. Since 1981, WaterAid has reached 28 million people with clean water and nearly 29 million people with decent toilets.

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