Cyclone Idai one month on: Menstrual hygiene becomes a silent need as cholera outbreak fears persist

Beira/Harare/Lilongwe, April 13, 2019 – Women and girls affected by last month’s destructive Cyclone Idai storm are facing serious health risks due to shortages of menstrual hygiene support, CARE experts have revealed.

Cyclone Idai caused devastation across Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe last month, killing more than 1,000 people and leaving another 3 million in desperate need of help. The situation is particularly alarming in Mozambique where hundreds of thousands of people live in temporary shelters as their homes have been destroyed.

“There are severe risks for around 650,000 menstruating women and girls whose hygiene is threatened by unsafe water and a cholera outbreak. While collecting water and preparing food for their families, women are even more exposed to the danger of contracting waterborne diseases,” says Marc Nosbach, Country Director for CARE in Mozambique.

 “We have seen young girls having no other option than washing their menstrual cloths in receding and most certainly contaminated flood water. No space to dry their laundry and therefore being forced to put on clammy clothes is adding even more risks for their health,” Nosbach explained.

During the last week, the Government of Mozambique reported an increase of registered cholera cases from 1,000 to more than 4,000, with seven people who already lost their lives.

Nosbach added: "CARE is working with other NGOS and the Mozambique Ministry of Health in setting up treatment centers and clinics, as well as helping to run a massive vaccination campaign. In addition to cholera, the extensive damage to health infrastructure and medical supplies still requires considerable effort to restore the functioning of the health system and ensure that people are able to receive basic, maternal and child care or for chronic diseases such as HIV and Tuberculosis."

In Malawi, issues of women’s health are also in the spotlight.

Mwangitama Chavula, CARE’s Maternal Child Health and Nutrition Coordinator: “In the current crisis, most women have lost their livelihoods and report being at risk of sexual violence and exploitation, particularly women from single-headed families and girls. The risks they were experiencing included being harassed when travelling outside their communities to fetch firewood, water and food, lack of washrooms. No bathing, washing and drying spaces for women in most camps.

“CARE is supporting women with hygiene kits that include soaps, sanitary pads, water buckets and other items. However, the needs here are immense and so sexual and reproductive health needs, including access to family planning services are still unmet particularly for women.

“With the scarcity of food, girls and women, particularly pregnant and lactating mothers, are also reporting to us that they are experiencing less access to nutritional food. Some women and girls say they have resolved for self-discrimination especially during the times that they are menstruating because having not bathed, they produce bad bodily odor thus having specific needs including clothing, sanitary pads and undergarments for menstrual hygiene and dignity,” Chavula said.

CARE staff in Zimbabwe warn that the lack of adequate water and sanitation infrastructure in the affected communities poses a health disaster in the camps where displaced communities are living.

CARE Emergency Coordinator, Abel Whande, said: “We are particularly addressing the issue of the lack of segregation of latrines by gender, as well as the lack of bathing facilities. Women’s menstrual hygiene needs are largely unmet, though CARE has distributed dignity kits.”

For media queries, please contact:

Henry Makiwa, Senior Humanitarian Communications Coordinator, CARE International – [email protected]

Ninja Taprogge, Emergency Communications Officer, currently deployed to Beira, Mozambique, [email protected], + 258 85 287 7162.

Aderito Bie, Communications Officer, CARE Mozambique, [email protected], + 258 84 652 1549 or + 258 86 869 8863

Read more about CARE's work in MozambiqueMalawi, and Zimbabwe.