Cyclone Freddy deepens health risks in worst-hit countries
In Malawi and Mozambique the cyclone tore through amid cholera outbreaks
With a double landfall in less than a month, the impact of Cyclone Freddy is immense and deepfelt
The devastation by Tropical Cyclone Freddy is exposing major health risks in the hardest-hit southern Africa countries where emergency response efforts are being ramped up to provide relief to affected communities.
More than 300 health facilities have been destroyed or flooded in Madagascar, Malawi and Mozambique following the devastation by Cyclone Freddy, leaving communities without adequate access to health services. The cyclone’s devastation has raised public health risks including the increased spread of cholera, malaria, vaccine-preventable diseases, COVID-19, as well as malnutrition. Support for trauma and mental health are also critical.
In Malawi and Mozambique the cyclone tore through amid cholera outbreaks. Cholera cases have more than doubled in Mozambique over the past week from 1023 to 2374 as of 20 March. However, Malawi, which is battling its worst-ever cholera outbreak, continued to record a decline, with cases falling to 1424 as of 20 March compared with 1956 the previous week. The widespread flooding and infrastructure damage Malawi has witnessed due to the cyclone risks reversing the recent progress made against cholera.
“With a double landfall in less than a month, the impact of Cyclone Freddy is immense and deepfelt. While we work to understand the full extent of the devastation, our priority is to ensure that affected communities and families receive health assistance for immediate needs as well as to limit the risks of water-borne diseases and other infections spreading,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Director for Africa.
The extensive destruction, flooding and torrential rains have affected more than 1.4 million people in the three countries and stretched the capacity of health facilities to the limit. Houses, schools, roads and other infrastructure have been destroyed or damaged, and swathes of farmland inundated.
Increased and concerted humanitarian assistance is critical to support the affected populations to cope with the crisis and eventually recover from the disaster. WHO and partner organizations are supporting national authorities in stepping up the cyclone disaster response.
WHO has provided US$7.9 million and deployed more than 60 experts to the affected countries to support the emergency response. Around 184 tons of laboratory, treatment and other critical medical supplies have been shipped to boost the cyclone and cholera emergency response. In Malawi, WHO has decentralized cholera response operation centres to hotspot districts to bolster the disease control efforts.
The Organization has also provided training to more than 1500 health workers in Malawi, Mozambique and Madagascar on disease surveillance, clinical care and community mobilization to secure public support for the relief response efforts.
While cholera is easily treatable, and most people can be treated successfully through prompt administration of oral rehydration solution or intravenous fluids, ending the disease requires investments to improve access to safe water and basic sanitation.
The cholera outbreaks currently affecting 14 African countries are being exacerbated by extreme climatic events and conflicts that have increased vulnerabilities, as people are forced to flee their homes and grapple with precarious living conditions.
“With the rise in climate-related health emergencies in Africa, it’s clear that more needs to be done to bolster preparedness to climatic hazards so that communities can better cope with the impacts of the devastating natural disasters,” said Dr Moeti.
Dr Moeti spoke today during a press conference. She was joined by Dr Charles Mwansambo, Secretary of Health, Ministry of Health, Malawi; and Dr Norbert Ndjeka, Director of Drug-Resistant TB, TB & HIV Programme at the National Department of Health, South Africa.
Also on hand from WHO Regional Office for Africa to answer questions were Dr Fiona Braka, Team Lead for Emergency Responses; Dr Jamal Ahmed, Polio Coordinator; Dr Thierno Balde, Regional COVID-19 Incident Manager; Dr Michel Gasana, Team Lead for Tuberculosis; and Dr Solomon Woldetsadik, Health Emergencies Officer.
Distributed by APO Group on behalf of WHO Regional Office for Africa.