World

Mozambique to start mass cholera vaccinations as tens of thousands still displaced by cyclone

Mozambique will start a cholera vaccination campaign next week in areas ravaged by Cyclone Idai, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Thursday, after five cases were confirmed.

Heavy rains and flooding raising risk of waterborne and infectious diseases

A woman washes clothing in the dirty waters of the Buzi River near Beira, Mozambique. (Stephanie Jenzer/CBC News)

Mozambique will start a cholera vaccination campaign next week in areas ravaged by Cyclone Idai, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Thursday, after five confirmed cases were detected.

Thousands of people were trapped for more than a week in submerged villages without access to clean water after Cyclone Idai smashed into the port city of Beira on March 14, causing catastrophic flooding and killing more than 700 people across the southeastern African countries of Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi.

With tens of thousands of displaced people moved to makeshift camps, relief efforts have increasingly focused on containing outbreaks of waterborne and infectious diseases.

David Wightwick, a senior member of the WHO's response team in Beira, told reporters that seven clinics had been set up in Mozambique to treat cholera patients and that two more would be ready soon.

A health worker inspects a baby's feet before entering a cholera treatment centre in Beira Wednesday. A mass vaccination campaign is set to begin next week. (Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi/Associated Press)

"We have 900,000 doses of oral cholera vaccines which are coming in on Monday, and we will start a vaccination campaign as soon as possible next week," Wightwick said.

Cholera is endemic to Mozambique, which has had regular outbreaks over the past five years. About 2,000 people were infected in the last outbreak, which ended in February 2018, according to the WHO.

But the scale of the damage to Beira's water and sanitation infrastructure, coupled with its dense population, have raised fears that another epidemic would be difficult to put down.

A woman carrying a baby on her back jumps as she tries to avoid stepping on the dirty water in Beira Wednesday. Cyclone-ravaged Mozambique faces a 'second disaster' from cholera and other diseases, the World Health Organization is warning. (Themba Hadebe/Associated Press)

Wightwick could not confirm whether there had yet been any deaths from cholera in Mozambique.

A Reuters reporter saw the body of a dead child being brought out of an emergency clinic in Beira on Wednesday. The child had suffered acute diarrhea, which can be a symptom of cholera.

In nearby Malawi, which was badly hit by flooding and heavy rains in the leadup to Cyclone Idai, the government said crop and livestock farming had been badly affected and that irrigation infrastructure had been damaged.

Agriculture ministry spokesman Hamilton Chimala said around 420,000 tonnes of maize had been lost, representing roughly 12 per cent of the country's forecast output of 3.3 million tonnes in the 2018/19 farming season.

An aerial view of houses seen Tuesday near Nhamatanda village, Beira, following Cyclone Idai. (Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters)

Impoverished Malawi is regularly hit by food shortages, so the damage to the country's staple grain is a cause for concern.

Zimbabwe's Local Government Minister July Moyo said on Wednesday the government would spend another $24 million US to deal with the aftermath of the cyclone.

As of Wednesday, 713 people in Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi had died in the tropical storm and in the heavy rains before it hit.

Nahlah Ayed is in Beira, seeing the destruction and distress up close: 

The escalating crisis caused by Cyclone Idai has left at least 1.8 million Mozambicans in desperate need. CBC's Nahlah Ayed is there to give us the picture on the ground, along with the sounds of unbearable sorrow. 3:15