BLANTYRE, MALAWI - Malawi continues to register new cases of cholera in an outbreak that has now reached half of the country’s 28 districts. However, the government and communities trade blame over containment efforts.
According to the latest figures from the Ministry of Health 23 people have died from cholera since the first case was recorded in November.
The number of infected people has now ballooned to 739 from 157 in January.
Ministry spokesperson Joshua Malango told VOA that a major cause of the rising number of cases is because of people’s beliefs in superstitions.
“Some [people] are still believing that having cholera is not to do with hygiene, it’s to do with witchcraft or some traditional beliefs," he said. " So, instead of rushing to the hospital, they rush to seek traditional medicine which cannot help.”
Malango says, for example, one patient died last Thursday in the capital, Lilongwe, because he refused to go to the hospital for medical help.
Malango also says churches that prohibit their sick members from getting medical help have contributed to the death toll.
He says authorities recently rescued and took to the hospital some cholera patients who were being prayed for at a church in Salima district, central Malawi.
“They are members of Zion Church who resorted to go to churches for prayers and the like. So, three of them died and using police force we managed to rescue seven [cholera patients] who were at the church," he said.
Cholera causes severe diarrhea and can kill within hours if not treated.
It spreads via contaminated food and water.
Levi Zacheyu Mwazalunga is head of the Zion Church in Blantyre, which does not allow its members to get medical help when sick.
He told VOA it is wrong to say that his church members died of cholera because they did not go to the hospital.
He says we believe that whether one goes to the hospital or not, they will die. It is what God told Adam when He created the earth that everyone will die regardless of age or circumstances.
He read out several verses in the Bible where sick people were healed because of prayers.
But health rights campaigners have a different view.
Maziko Matemba is the Executive Director for Health and Rights Education Program.
He says the rising cholera cases confirm the government's failure to sensitize communities on measures to prevent and contain the disease.
“The issue is how far has the ministry of health identified the gap which is there right now," Matemba said. " Because if the condition is still coming out, this means that there is somewhere which the government could have done [ better] in terms of sending messages to do with hygiene.”
Joshua Malango defends the government's efforts to contain the cholera outbreak.
“If you look at the figures which we are getting on a daily basis comparing with previous months or weeks, it looks like we are making some slides because as of yesterday we had only one new cholera case in Salima. Lilongwe has no new cholera cases," he said.
He also says the government has just immunized about 100, 000 people during the first round of cholera vaccinations that took place in the northern districts of Karonga and Rumphi.