Cholera outbreak in Mozambique after cyclone Idai
One of the most powerful cyclones ever to hit Southeast Africa made landfall in Beira, Mozambique two weeks ago. Reuters reported that the death toll from Cyclone Idai has risen to 843.
This past week, the BBC reported the first cholera-related death. Reports also claim hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced due to flooding, and the immediate dangers of a cholera outbreak in Mozambique have begun to make headlines.
Cholera is a potentially fatal bacterial disease that results when a water supply becomes contaminated by human waste. If not given immediate attention, the disease can kill a person due to severe dehydration.
Mozambique is vulnerable to the after-effects of a natural disaster such as a cyclone due to its geographical position. Mozambique is downstream from flooding rivers, and in some areas, the natural elevation rests below sea level. Because of Cyclone Idai, destructive flooding has already contaminated water supplies, positioning communities for a cholera outbreak.
Nicole Freire, a Mozambican who is studying epidemiology in the Masters of Public Health program at New York University, drew attention to the need for updated sewage infrastructure, especially in the city of Beira.
“Beira, like many other Mozambican cities, still has some of the sewage infrastructure dating back to the colonial period in place. I don’t think being prepared would have averted the outbreak,” Freire said. “Of course, doing something to improve the sanitation infrastructure would have helped. Either way, open sewage and free-flowing water are the perfect storm necessary for cholera to flourish.”
The Word Health organization reported in 2018 article that Mozambique has experienced a cholera outbreak every year for the past five years. However, reports have not exceeded over 300 reported cases.
Cholera cases have more than doubled in Biera. Aid workers estimate that the number of people with cholera is now well over 1,000, according to reports by Reuters and the Associated Press.
According to Freire, those who are most vulnerable to water-borne diseases like cholera are the poor.
"Socioeconomic status influences vulnerability to disease – the poor are definitely more vulnerable to cholera. They did not have the luxury to flee once the airports opened,” Freire said. “Displacement would also contribute to this because the lack of a formal shelter leaves them more prone to infection by the cholera bacteria.”
In order to try to combat an outbreak, the World Health Organization has shipped 900,000 Cholera vaccines, and aid workers from China, the U.S. and organizations such as Doctors Without Borders are endeavoring to contain the outbreaks.
By Jessica Lykins