Remarks by the UNICEF Regional Director for Eastern and Southern Africa, Etleva Kadilli, at the extraordinary meeting of ministers of health on cholera hosted virtually by The Republic of Angola

27 January 2024

As delivered

Honourable Silvia Lutucuta, Minister of Health for the Republic of Angola and
Chairperson of the Committee of SADC Ministers of Health
Honorable Ministers and Deputy Ministers of Health from SADC countries,
Your Excellency Executive Secretary of SADC
Your Excellency, Dr. Jean Kaseya, Director General of Africa CDC
Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Africa Regional Director
Excellencies, Permanent Secretaries, Ambassadors and distinguished senior officials
Ladies and gentlemen
All protocols observed.

Let me start by thanking Your Honorable Minister and Excellencies for convening this extraordinary meeting, so critical, and honored being with you here today.

As we all know, the current cholera outbreaks in the region are fierce and affecting and taking so many lives of children and families.

Children are disproportionally affected from a disease that is avoidable and treatable.

We are witnessing the impact of the outbreaks on communities and families, challenging the resilience of the health, water, sanitation, and education systems.

Earlier today we heard the number of people and lives lost!

I would like to call attention on the disturbing observation that children are more affected than before cholera outbreaks.

This is of great concern to UNICEF, and surely to all of you.

This time around, we have seen in some countries that 52 per cent of all cases are children under 15 years, …. and children under 5 represent around 40 per cent of deaths and 30 per cent of cases.

This is far too high, and we need to deliberately focus our response to protect children.

We know that children are the most at risk to get infected by cholera and other infectious diseases because their immune systems are still growing.

We need to have a clear understanding of the drivers of high infection among children and craft our responses to mitigate these risks.

Investing in high quality and child-sensitive case management is imperative!

In addition to working with the communities to respond on adequate practices to avoid transmission and treat cholera infections, including safe water use and positive health-seeking behavior. Timely immunization, including preventive OCV vaccination is equally critical.

But the protection of children is beyond cholera related interventions, it demands continuation of essential services.

This includes routine immunization, healthy nutrition, and continued access to education.

As COVID-19 and other public emergency outbreaks have demonstrated, protection of children means that children continue to learn in a safe school, supported by well-informed teachers and appropriate investment in water, sanitation, and hygiene.

Education provides an opportunity for learning about good hygiene practices as part of the school curriculum. Children can be agent of their own behaviors change and champions of change in communities:

We have seen promising cases throughout the region of youth that go door-to-door with messages on good practices and support early warning and swift case management.

In addition, Your Excellencies, as we have agreed in Malawi last year, cross-border collaboration remains key in jointly getting on top of the multiple outbreaks. It helps to strengthen early detection and effective case management by exchange of learning and sharing of resources.

Esteemed Ministers: UNICEF stands with you every step of the way and is currently in all countries working in all sectors, together with you in support of your government efforts to stop this devastating outbreak through:

  • Through cholera outbreak coordination and 
    Though provision of essential supplies for operationalizing of CTCs/CTUs (kits, beds, tents),
  • Through rapid qualitative assessments of barriers and drivers of health and WASH behaviors
    • Heard how real time learning is working in Zambia and Zimbabwe.
  • Through capacity building of community health workers and volunteers across the sectoral needs:
    • on community-based surveillance,
    • on promoting household water treatment,
    • on use of ORS and promote help-seeking behavior,
    • on improved sanitation and safe hygiene practices among communities.
  • Parallel to advocating for school opening, UNICEF supports MoE to equip and prepare education facilities for safe learning and swift reopening of schools where required:
    • Through capacity strengthening of teachers and school management in basic infection prevention and cholera response.
    • Through WASH in schools.
  • And support with OCV vaccination campaigns through micro-planning in Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

We take note of ongoing discussions on local production and preventive use of OCV and are keen to support on accelerating this, where best could OCV be product but in the continent.

While accelerating response to save lives, we need to commit to mid- and long- term mitigation and preparedness measures.

Unpredictable and extreme weather events due to climate change, incl. El Nino are exacerbating the region’s vulnerability to cholera transmission.

We need investments in WASH, health and education systems to increase resilience to mitigate the impact of endemic prevalence of cholera in Southern Africa.

Dear Excellencies, we count on you on accelerating the above agenda and do count on us, UNICEF, to support you every step of the way.

Media contacts

Sasha Surandran
UNICEF Nairobi
Tel: +254 745 191 754

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