UNICEF has provided medical and other supplies to Chikwawa and Nsanje, to support the Ministry of Health’s response to a cholera outbreak in the area that threatens to spread to other districts bordering Mozambique, including Mwanza, Neno and Dedza.
Chikwawa and Nsanje districts have recorded 18 cases of cholera so far and work is continuing to stop the further spread of the disease.
“UNICEF is supporting the Government of Malawi in cholera prevention and response through the provision of critical supplies and community mobilization and sensitization to respond to the current cholera outbreak,” UNICEF Deputy Representative Roisin De Burca said.
”We must all work together and act quickly with strong coordination across the Health and WASH Clusters to ensure that the disease does not claim lives, especially those who are most vulnerable – the children,” she said.
UNICEF, in collaboration with the affected district health offices, is supporting 8,000 households with supplies such as chlorine for water treatment, water guards for household and community water treatment, and water collection and storage containers.
In addition, the UN agency is supporting health services to disseminate sanitation and health related information,to ensure that children and women access knowledge on prevention of child illness, especially diarrhoea.
UK Aid through UNICEF, has funded cholera preparedness, prevention and control activities in the affected districts. The agency is providing over USD $2.3 million (K1.7 billion) from November 2016 to October 2017 to support preparations, prepositioning of supplies, case management, capacity building of health staff, and purchasing medical and other supplies.
With funding from UK Aid, UNICEF is also supporting the Ministry of Health in the construction of temporary latrines with handwashing facilities and bathing shelters in cholera treatment centres. UNICEF will also construct appropriately located diarrhoea and vomit disposal pits in health centres treating cholera patients.
The work with local communities involves promoting awareness of the signs, symptoms and causes of cholera and providing advice on avoiding contraction of cholera, through community roadshows and local radio covering over 40 at-risk villages.
“The UK is committed to the fight against life-threatening diseases such as cholera. We have given funds to UNICEF for the purchase of health and sanitation supplies. These are having an immediate impact in containing the spread of cholera in Southern Malawi. Wider DFID support to the improvement of sanitation systems will also have a long-term impact on these communities.”
UNICEF is also working with district environmental health Offices, partners, village chiefs and other community influencers to mobilize communities towards local disease case surveillance, health promotion and uptake of healthy behaviours.
“Our priority is to identify cholera cases and stop the disease quickly,” said De Burca. “We have already started working to address water and sanitation issues and community sensitization, which are a critical part of cholera prevention. We want families to access safewater for drinking, cooking and personal hygiene and have the knowledge on how the disease is spread and what they need to do for prevention and ultimately for treatment.”
The districts of Chikwawa and Nsanje are already under pressure,having been among the worst hit by floods and El Nino in the past two years. The 2015 floods destroyed many water points, exposing the population to water borne diseases. The subsequent El Nino induced drought in 2016 worsened the situation as water sources dried up, forcing communities to use water from unprotected sources.
“UNICEF and the Ministry of Health have been preparing for this eventuality since November last year, which was the beginning of the Cholera season,” said De Burca. “Now, because of the imminent threat of another outbreak in Mwanza, Neno and Dedza, we areextending our response to reach these additional districts.”
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