May 13, 2003

Foot and mouth disease in the South, Cholera in Blantyre

Two dangerous diseases are spreading in Malawi: A Cholera outbreak in Blantyre, and a foot and mouth disease among cattle in the south of the country.

The Malawi government has banned all meat from the Lower Shire Valley in southern Malawi. Grey Matita, field service director in the department of animal health in the agriculture ministry said some 350 head of cattle were diagnosed with the disease by last week. There are about 6 000 cattle in the affected region. An alert has been issued to neighbouring countries about the outbreak and meat from the area has been banned until the situation is contained.

Matita said that although foot and mouth disease does not affect people, it causes havoc in the dairy and cattle farming industry because infected cows cannot produce milk while work oxen suffer sore joints and feet. Matita said samples of the virus had been sent to laboratories in Botswana and South Africa to determine what vaccine to use to contain the disease. "We are hopeful that the situation will be contained in a few weeks," he said.

At the same time, Malawi's health authorities have stepped up efforts to contain a cholera outbreak within it commercial capital of Blantyre. The water borne disease surfaced in the end of April and has infected eight people and killed one in three area that receive clean water from the state, namely the medium density area of Naperi, and the high density areas of Zingwangwa and Manase.

Health officer for the Blantyre district, Elita Kamoto, blames the outbreak on the Blantyre Water Board, which cut the water supply to residents who hadn't paid bills. Affected residents have been forced to collect water from streams. Health department director for the city, Lester Bandawe, said he couldn't be sure the water board was to blame, but said 75 percent of residents in the areas had access to "what may be considered safe water." A water board inspector confirmed water had been cut in the affected areas and that more disconnections were expected as a result of outstanding bills.

Preventative health director in the health ministry, Habib Somanje, expressed concern at the fatality. He said one death in less than eight cholera cases was high. He said the fatality standard set by the World Health Organisation's (WHO) was only one death per 100 cases. (African Eye News Service, Nelspruit)

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