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Cholera Outbreak In Malawi Causes Concern

FILE - People cross a river with their belongings where a bridge once stood in Phaloni, Southern Malawi, Jan 22, 2015.

U.N. aid agencies are increasing operations in flood-stricken Malawi in a desperate attempt to stave off a potentially large-scale cholera epidemic. The United Nations Children’s Fund says Malawi is on high alert following a cholera outbreak in southern border areas, near Mozambique.

U.N. aid workers are alarmed at the prospect of a large, nationwide outbreak of cholera in Malawi. This is because the disease is located in the southern border areas where flood victims are living in overcrowded camps, an environment in which cholera flourishes.

The last time the country experienced a large-scale outbreak was in 2009, when well over 1,000 people were infected.

The U.N. Children’s Fund says it is concerned something similar might happen now as Malawi, which was hit by devastating floods in January, is short of adequate water and sanitation. The Ministry of Health reports 39 confirmed cases of cholera, including two deaths, over a two-week period.

UNICEF spokesman Christophe Boulierac tells VOA the situation is particularly alarming because all cases of cholera in Malawi are directly linked to another outbreak of the disease in neighboring Mozambique. And, he adds, the number of cases there appears to be on the increase.

“The situation is much more serious in Mozambique regarding cholera. And, what is at stake now in Malawi is to respond in order to avoid a propagation of cholera in Malawi…The capacity of response of health service in Malawi, the problem of access are very worrying and all the partners are in the process to scale up their response," said Boulierac.

The United Nations reports Mozambique has recorded more than 3,400 cholera cases and 37 deaths since December 25, many of them children. People who become infected with cholera experience diarrhea, vomiting and, in the later stages, severe dehydration. If not properly treated, cholera can kill within hours and is especially dangerous for young children.

UNICEF is providing mobile health services in Malawi, in addition to safe water, sanitation and hygiene services. All are critical in preventing the spread of cholera. Aid workers, however, are facing a problem of access to the victims because the floods have washed away bridges and roads. This could seriously hamper efforts to contain this deadly disease.

The January floods are the worst on record in Malawi. The U.N. reports some 230,000 people still are displaced as the rains continue and more than 170 people are missing.