April 19, 2002

Almost 1,000 cholera deaths reported

Almost 1,000 people have died from cholera in Malawi since November and about 33,000 infections have been reported up to mid-April, the national health department said.

Most cases were in the central region, which saw 592 people die and 16,318 people infected, Dr Habib Somanje, director of preventive health services said. In the southern region, 364 people died and 16,257 were infected, while the north was least affected, with 30 deaths and 362 reported cases. "This is the worst outbreak in the past 10 years," he said, adding that the outbreak affected men, women and children equally.

The causes of the latest outbreak were not yet clear, but the department was mobilising support from churches, traditional leaders and political organisations, he said. In addition, the health department had been caught off guard with the high number of infections and did not have enough drugs or rehydration materials, Somanje added. He also appealed to people to practise good hygiene to beat the epidemic.

World Health Organisation (WHO) representative Ben Chandyamba said United Nations agencies would next week begin an assessment of the current food crisis and would include the social aspect in their study. Chandyamba said it was possible that the cholera outbreak could also be linked to starving people in peri-urban areas eating whatever they could find to survive. "They are eating anything you can think of," said Chandyamba. Meanwhile, Channel Africa reported on Friday, April 19, that Britain would provide US $6 million in emergency food aid to the country, which is suffering its worst hunger crisis in 50 years. The British High Commission in Blantyre was quoted as saying that 35,000 poor families in the central Salima and Mchinji districts would benefit from the aid over the next two months.

Britain, Malawi's former colonial power and largest aid donor, was withholding the first tranche of a US $122 million dollar aid package to Malawi pending improved fiscal discipline, the report said. (IRIN)

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