Cyclone Idai: The fear of Cholera

 Emergency Response
 16th Apr 2019

By Ninja Taprogge, Emergency Communications Officer, currently deployed to Beira, Mozambique,, + 258 85 287 7162.

It is a Tuesday morning in Mozambique: 3,577 reported cases of cholera. The number of people showing possible symptoms of Cholera increased rapidly within the last few days. I know it sounds bad, but had I stayed back home in Germany, this would probably be just another figure to me from a distant disaster area in Southern Africa. But I am in Beira today, the Mozambican city that was heavily impacted by Cyclone Idai. So my perspective has completely changed. Cholera is a daily threat here.

Nearly four weeks ago, Cyclone Idai hit Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe with speeds of more than 200 kilometers per hour. The huge tidal waves tore apart power poles, trees and rooftops. In some regions of Mozambique, the water still stood up to eight meters until only a few days ago. Currently the water decreases slowly and with it, a number of deadly risks appear. On TV, one could see images of children swimming in big puddles of water in this area. Now that I am here, I hear of women washing their sanitary pads in contaminated water because they have no other choice. This practice is life-threatening.

Six people have already died of cholera in Mozambique. To prevent further harm, the government started a vaccination campaign in early in the beginning of April. Within a few days this campaign reached around 600,000 people. There are eleven cholera treatment centers where thousands of people currently receive medical aid. The good news is: Cholera is treatable and hence curable - but just as long as the infectious disease is detected soon and the patient gets hydrated as quickly as possible. The bad news is that until now not all people in the affected areas could be reached with vaccinations. Many of them simply does not know how to protect themselves from an infection.

Aid organizations like CARE work around the clock to change that. The CARE emergency team has already provided more than 19,000 people in Mozambique with clean drinking water and hygiene products such as soap and sanitary pads.

Nevertheless, the risk of an infection remains high. The disease spreads rapidly – and aid workers are equally at risk. The United Nations and humanitarian organizations for now have turned the waiting hall of Beira airport into an operation room. A bottle of disinfectant sits on every desk. Furthermore, we are only allowed to drink bottled water, we need to wash our hands regularly and change bed sheets and towels as often as possible. But naturally I am still scared of contracting cholera. I wash and disinfect my hands thoroughly, not just before eating but every two to three hours. No one here is completely safe. Aid workers aren’t, nor are the 160,000 people who have been living in emergency shelters for weeks now and depend on our assistance.

Learn more about how CARE is responding to the cholera outbreak in Mozambique and prioritising health in Malawi, and Zimbabwe.

For more information contact Ninja Taprogge, Emergency Communications Officer,, + 258 85 287 7162.

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