Mozambican and international health workers raced on Monday to contain the outbreak of cholera in the cyclone-hit city of Beira, where the number of cases of the disease has jumped to 517 and the first death has been recorded.
“There are seven emergency cholera treatment centres operational in Beira and two more being set up. Two additional centres are being set up in Nhamatanda,” said David Wightwick, the World Health Organization’s team leader in Beira.
Mozambican workers have restored clean tap water to parts of Beira, a city of 500,000, although large areas of the city still do not have access to sanitary water, he told The Associated Press while visiting a water treatment centre.
“A vaccination campaign against cholera, with 900,000 doses of the vaccine, will start Wednesday,” said Wightwick. “That should blunt the edge of this outbreak.”
The National’s Nahlah Ayed discusses aid efforts in Buzi, Mozambique
Cases of the acute diarrheal disease have risen dramatically since the first five cases were confirmed last week. Cholera is spread by contaminated water and food; it can kill within hours but is relatively easy to treat.
The overall cyclone death toll in Mozambique is now 518. With 259 deaths in Zimbabwe and 56 in Malawi, the three-nation death toll is more than 815. Authorities warn the tolls are preliminary as floodwaters recede and reveal more bodies.
More than two weeks after Cyclone Idai hit Beira and swept across central Mozambique, about 98,000 people are in camps for the displaced and “living under canvas,” Wightwick said.
“Cholera is our most immediate challenge,” he said, adding that getting adequate nutrition to the population and battling other diseases like malaria are also priorities.
In addition to Mozambican medics, health workers from Portugal, Denmark, Italy and China are helping respond to the crisis. The U.S. military joined the international humanitarian aid efforts to Mozambique by airlifting food and relief supplies from South Africa.
The Canadian government previously announced it will provide up to $3.5 million in initial emergency assistance to support humanitarian organizations responding to the disaster and will also donate relief supplies, including tarpaulins, shelter kits, mosquito nets and blankets.
India’s navy also stepped in to help those in need after the cyclone:
Round-the-clock flights are delivering supplies from the United Nations World Food Program from King Shaka International Airport in Durban, South Africa, said U.S. embassy spokesperson Robert Mearkle.
He said the commodities airlifted from Durban were from the World Food Program’s internal stock.
“Separately from these shipments, the United States has provided nearly $3.4 million US in additional funding for the World Food Program to deliver approximately 2,500 metric tons of rice, peas, and vegetable oil to affected people in Sofala, Zambezia and Manica provinces,” said Mearkle. “This life-saving emergency food assistance will support approximately 160,000 people for one month.”
Disease a major concern for cyclone survivors
Beira’s crowded, poor neighbourhoods are especially at risk. Doctors Without Borders has said it is seeing some 200 likely cholera cases per day in the city, where relief workers are hurrying to restore the damaged water system and bring in additional medical assistance.
Cholera is a major concern for the hundreds of thousands of cyclone survivors in the southern African nation now living in squalid conditions in camps, schools or damaged homes. Some drink from contaminated wells or filthy, stagnant water.
As health responders stress the need for better disease surveillance, the United Nations’ deputy humanitarian co-ordinator in Mozambique, Sebastian Rhodes Stampa, has said all cases of diarrhea are being treated as though they are cholera.
Cholera is endemic to the region, and “it breaks out fast and it travels extremely fast,” he told reporters.
Doctors Without Borders has said other suspected cholera cases have been reported outside Beira in the badly hit areas of Buzi, Tica and Nhamathanda but the chance of spread in rural areas is smaller because people are more dispersed.
Mozambican officials have said Cyclone Idai destroyed more than 50 health centres in the region, complicating response efforts.
The United Nations has said some 1.8 million people need urgent help across the sodden, largely rural region.
This story originally appeared on CBC