Health rights campaigners in Malawi are welcoming a national campaign against a record cholera outbreak, which has affected all 29 districts in the country and killed nearly 1,400 people.
President Lazarus Chakwera launched the campaign Monday, pledging to reduce the transmission and mortality rate of the water-borne illness. Chakwera said the spread is largely because people in the country are not following good hygiene practices.
“And because the behavior is not changing, the situation has become dire,” he said. “So far, over 1,300 funerals have happened around the country because of cholera. And the disease is still spreading at an alarming rate. We are getting between 500 to 600 cholera cases every day in our health facilities throughout the country.”
The campaign, known as “Tithetse Kolera” or “Let’s end cholera,” focuses on repairing water kiosks across the country and helping people construct toilets in their homes.
Chakwera said statistics show that about 40 percent of Malawians do not have toilets and instead use the bush to relieve themselves.
Several organizations in Malawi have long been running campaigns against the practice of open defecation, but with little result.
“We are human beings with dignity, not animals that can just use any place as a toilet. If any place is not a toilet, don’t treat it as a toilet,” Chakwera said. “And a toilet is not something that is given to you by the government or something that is donated from abroad or something that comes down from heaven. It is something you give yourself as a human being because you respect yourself better than an animal.”
Health authorities say they hope the campaign will help reduce the cholera fatality rate from the current 3.6% to 1%.
Health rights campaigner George Jobe welcomed the campaign, but said the government should go further by ending myths and misinformation associated with the outbreak.
Jobe, who is also executive director for the Malawi Health Equity Network, cited two recent incidents in Lilongwe and Balaka districts, where angry members of the community assaulted medical workers and vandalized two public health facilities, forcing them to close. The community members accused the medical workers of deliberately infecting patients with cholera-infested vaccines.
“The current cholera seems to be different from previous outbreaks of cholera just because the current one was preceded by COVID-19. So, we shall continue to provide some piece of advice to the government that when we are doing awareness raising, we must be mindful that we are also fighting with reductions of COVID-19,” Jobe said.
Chakwera ordered the reopening of the closed health facilities and assured the health workers that they would receive maximum security.
In the meantime, the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and United Nations have pledged their support toward the success of the cholera campaign.
“The United Nations is currently in the process of preparing a multisector cholera appeal to increase the capacity of the U.N. and NGOs to support the government of Malawi. It will be launched next week,” said Rebecca Donto, the United Nations’ resident coordinator in Malawi.
Local media have reported that Malawi needs an additional $40 million for an effective cholera response.