Dozens of fragile patients poured into a clinic in the wrecked Mozambican port city of Beira on Wednesday, as the government said it had confirmed the first five cases of cholera in the wake of deadly Cyclone Idai.
Thousands of people were trapped for more than a week in submerged villages without access to clean water after the cyclone smashed into Mozambique on March 14, causing catastropic flooding. Relief efforts have increasingly focused on containing outbreaks of waterborne and infectious diseases.
In Munhava, central Beira, doctors and nurses at a newly set up treatment center said they are treating around 140 patients a day for diarrhea. Many of the patients arrive too weak to walk.
A Reuters reporter saw two men carrying an unconscious woman from a rickshaw into the clinic, trying to cover her naked body with a sheet.
Inside, those too ill to sit lay on concrete benches attached to intravenous drips. Mothers were perched on plastic chairs in the courtyard, trying to get their children to drink rehydration salts from green cups.
“He won’t take it,” said Marisa Salgado, 22, holding her boy, aged 1-1/2, who stared with glazed eyes.
It was the second time she had been to the clinic this week, she said. Her child’s diarrhea returned as soon as she got home, despite the chlorine solution nurses gave her to purify their water.
“I’m scared. I don’t know what to do,” she said.
Ussene Isse, national director of medical assistance at the Health Ministry, said he expected cholera to spread beyond the five cases confirmed as of Wednesday morning.
“When you have one case, you have to expect more cases in the community,” he told reporters. Health workers are battling 2,700 cases of acute watery diarrhea – which could be a symptom of cholera – Isse added.
Health workers apply the same treatment for acute diarrhea or cholera, with severe cases requiring rapid rehydration through intravenous fluids.
Such diseases are another threat in the wake of Idai, which tore through Mozambique and into neighboring Zimbabwe and Malawi, killing more than 700 people and displacing hundreds of thousands of others.
Cholera is spread by faeces in sewage-contaminated water or food, and outbreaks can develop quickly in a humanitarian crisis where sanitation systems are disrupted. It can kill within hours if left untreated.
Lin Lovue, 27, said he had rushed his son to the clinic late on Tuesday after a day of diarrhea. Within an hour of getting there, the child died.
“The biggest challenge is organization,” said a coordinator at the clinic who did not want to be named. “The health system was completely broken after the storm and we have to re-establish capacity fast.”
Medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), which runs the emergency center, has set up two others in Beira and is providing consultations via mobile clinics in several neighborhoods.
Outside the clinic, two medics dressed in blue overalls lifted the body of a 1-year-old child wrapped in a white bag on to the back of an open-top truck. The father laid his child down on a bamboo mat as someone wrote the baby’s name on a wooden cross.
The World Health Organization is sending 900,000 doses of oral cholera vaccine to affected areas from a global stockpile. The shipment is expected to arrive in Mozambique later this week.
The death toll in Mozambique from Cyclone Idai has risen to 468, Mozambican disaster management official Augusta Maita said on Wednesday.
That takes the total number of deaths in Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi to 707 people, with many more missing.
The United Nations refugee agency said one of its planes carrying relief items had landed in Mozambique’s capital Maputo and would proceed to Beira. The airlift is one of the three flights bringing relief to 30,000 people in Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi, the agency said.
HOW YOU CAN HELP
Americares has deployed a team to Mozambique to assess health needs and coordinate emergency shipments of medicine and relief supplies for survivors. You can donate to Americares Worldwide Disaster Relief Fund here to support its response to the cyclone.
CARE has emergency experts in Mozambique assessing the damage while providing search and rescue support around the hard-hit city of Beira. They are working to provide much-needed supplies to the area, including tents, buckets, tarps, blankets and hygiene kits. The organization also has teams on the ground in Zimbabwe and Malawi to assess the needs of the affected communities. You can make a donation here to support their efforts in southern Africa.
Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres has teams in Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi assessing the damage, trying to reach hard-hit communities and working to deliver medical kits as well as water and sanitation supplies to those in need. You can make a general donation here.
Humanity & Inclusion has 40 staff members on the ground, including a small team in Beira. The group has worked in Mozambique since 1986, tackling issues stemming from the country’s 25-year-long civil war with a focus on people with disabilities. Staff members are currently working to clear roads to rural communities cut off from humanitarian aid in the wake of the cyclone. You can make a donation to support their efforts here.
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies has an emergency response unit in Beira that will provide sanitation for 20,000 people every day. Another emergency response unit is expected to arrive in the coming days and will provide clean water for 15,000 people a day. Two emergency field hospitals are also en route to Mozambique to provide urgently-needed medical care. You can donate to their Mozambique campaign here.
The International Rescue Committee has launched an emergency response for people displaced by the cyclone in eastern Zimbabwe. The organization has teams on the ground in the hardest-hit areas providing medical care and emergency supplies for the most vulnerable. You can donate to support their efforts here.
Oxfam has teams assessing the needs of people worst affected in all three nations. You can make a general donation here.
Save the Children has delivered at least 51 metric tons of humanitarian aid to Mozambique, including tarps, buckets and tents. The organization is also working to provide displaced families with kits for water purification and hygiene. An estimated 350,000 children in Martinique alone are said to be in dire need of immediate relief. You can donate to support their efforts here.
SINCE YOU’RE HERE…
… we have a small favour to ask.
Hurn Publications is a home for bold ideas and big thinkers. We welcome your comments and banter, provided it stays respectful for all parties.
Hurn Publications is editorially independent, meaning we set our own agenda. Our journalism is free from commercial bias and not influenced by billionaire owners, politicians or shareholders. No one edits our editor. No one steers our opinion. This is important because it enables us to give a voice to the voiceless, challenge the powerful and hold them to account. It’s what makes us different to so many others in the media, at a time when factual, honest reporting is critical.
If everyone who reads our reporting and writing, who likes it, helps to support it, our future would be much more secure. We ask that you follow us and subscribe to our publication.