In the last 10 days, 22 cases of the waterborne disease cholera have been confirmed by laboratory testing in three areas in and around the northern Mozambique town of Pemba, in Cabo Delgado Province.
Leonard Heyerdahl, project manager of Africhol - an initiative of Paris-based NGO Agence de Médecine Préventive that is working in cooperation with the government's National Institute of Health (NIH) - told IRIN that from 30 January, “samples started turning positive [for cholera].” Prior to that, there were 366 cases of severe diarrhoea caused by the salmonella bacteria.
Heavy rains, flooding, displacement and poor access for humanitarian assistance are creating an ideal environment for the proliferation of cholera. Heyerdahl, whose unit is supporting Mozambique’s health authorities, said in such conditions, “one case of cholera is already an epidemic”.
The areas where NIH has identified confirmed cholera cases are Pemba, Mecufi and Metuge. NIH was also testing samples from other provinces, including from southern Mozambique.
Both northern and southern Mozambique have been affected by heavy rains and floods. The UN Resident Coordinator’s Office in Mozambique said that since “major flooding” began in January, 69 people have been killed.
An 8 February situation report by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said about “213,000 people have been affected by floods in Mozambique since October 2012, the majority having been affected since January 2013. The total number temporarily displaced people in the most-affected province, Gaza, is around 140,000; as some isolated areas become accessible, this number could increase.”
On 25 January, the town of Chokwe in Gaza Province was evacuated, as were parts of Guijá and Chibuto, according to a report published on 31 January.
Further rains are forecast for the coming days, including “upstream countries” of the Limpopo River, “specifically Zimbabwe and South Africa, [and] there are fears that flood conditions could be exacerbated in southern Mozambique over the coming week… Also, moderate-to-heavy rains are forecasted over central and northern Mozambique,” the OCHA situation report said.
In 2000, flooding and cyclones caused widespread damage, killing about 800 people and affecting millions. In 2007, about 285,000 people were affected and 163,000 displaced during the October to April rainy season.