UNICEF and WHO step up efforts to contain Cholera in Malawi and call for additional funds and support

24 August 2022
A health worker attending to a patient at Tukombo Health Centre in Nkhatabay
UNICEF Malawi/2022/HD Plus
A health worker attending to a patient at Tukombo Health Centre in Nkhatabay

Lilongwe, 24 August 2022 – The cholera outbreak, initially limited to the southern part of the country, has now spread to Malawi's northern and central regions. To date, 1,483 cases and 58 deaths have been recorded with the case fatality rate at 3.9 per cent[1]. This is of serious concern as cases continue to rise outside the traditional hotspot districts, affecting lakeshore communities and crowded, urban areas with insufficient water and sanitation facilities.

In response to this evolving situation, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organization (WHO) have stepped up their ongoing activities to support the Government of Malawi in containing and preventing the spread of this preventable disease in more districts.

Despite the continuing efforts in the national cholera outbreak response, and the need to intensify efforts, significant gaps exist. This includes the urgent need to strengthen surveillance system for early detection and management; increase quality case management at cholera treatment units; provide critical supplies required to manage cholera cases and for water treatment, personal hygiene and water storage at the household level; increase timely community engagement and dissemination of communications around cholera prevention, and positive hygiene practices.  

UNICEF and WHO are, therefore, appealing to partners and donors for additional funds and support to address these challenges and enable them to better support the Government in its efforts to contain the outbreak.

"Every death from cholera is preventable with the tools we have today. WHO will continue to support the Ministry of Health in implementing immediate and long-term cholera control, response and preventive measures. The additional support will help ensure that lives continue to be saved, and a resilient health system is maintained during and beyond the current outbreak," said WHO Country Representative Dr Neema Rusibamayila Kimambo.

"The impact of the larger outbreak will overwhelm the already over-burdened public health services and health-care delivery systems in the country, so we must act now. The good news is that we know the solutions. We are on the ground providing humanitarian assistance in the affected districts, but we need more support to further scale up our response. This will make a big difference to thousands of children and their families at risk of contracting this preventable disease. UNICEF remains fully committed to working closely with the government and partners in our collective response to the outbreak," said UNICEF Malawi Representative Rudolf Schwenk.

Since the declaration of a cholera outbreak in March 2022, UNICEF and WHO have been working closely with the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Water and Sanitation, district authorities, health centres, partners and community members in developing a response plan and coordinating the response ensuring the delivery of essential supplies and services to the families and communities in cholera-affected districts in Malawi.

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Note to editors:

  • Earlier this year, WHO supported the Ministry of Health in securing 3.9 million doses of the Oral Cholera Vaccines (OCV) sourced from the Global stockpile funded by GAVI-the Vaccine Alliance and the Global Task Force on Cholera Control. The Government of Malawi, with support from WHO and UNICEF, launched the national Oral Cholera Vaccination (OCV) campaign, which reached around 1,136,6432 people.
  • WHO support to date:
    • The WHO team is working with the Ministry of Health and partners to strengthen disease surveillance, provide medical treatment for patients, distribute laboratory supplies, monitor water quality and chlorinate public water supplies, and promote health education and hygiene among affected and at-risk communities.
    • In the ongoing cholera outbreak response, WHO donated to the Ministry of Health assorted cholera investigation, laboratory, and case management kits to facilitate sample collection from suspect cases, onsite rapid diagnostic testing, sample transportation to the laboratory and eventual testing as well as the clinical management of cholera cases at designated cholera treatment centres, units, and oral rehydration points. 
    • WHO trained over 800 health care workers in lifesaving critical care skills nationwide in readiness for such outbreaks.
    • WHO stockpiled cholera supplies in the Ministry of Health central medical stores following a risk assessment on the potential outbreak spread beyond southern Malawi.  
  • UNICEF support to date:
    • As part of the Ministry of Health's cholera preparedness and response plan, UNICEF supported effective planning and pre-positioning of cholera supplies. To date, UNICEF support includes the provision of cholera treatment kits, like health kits and 25 Acute Watery Diarrhea (AWD) kits, to all the affected districts where active cholera cases were observed. One AWD kit can provide service to more than 2,000 cases. UNICEF also distributed cholera supplies, including 20 cholera beds, gloves, gumboots, and cholera cups in the affected districts. Through its partner Malawi Red Cross, UNICEF organized training for 480 Health Surveillance Assistants and community volunteers to support detecting and reporting cholera outbreaks.
    • Since April, UNICEF has dispatched Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) supplies in the affected districts with cholera cases. This includes 22,000 buckets and 195,000 bars of soap to support personal hygiene and handwashing; 384 drums each containing 25 KG of chlorine were dispatched to different districts and cholera treatment centres for disinfecting facilities and water treatment; in addition to almost one million aqua tabs for water treatment at the household level. About 170 prefabricated latrines for cholera treatment centres, with mobile handwashing stations, have also been placed. UNICEF is also mobilizing door-to-door interpersonal and mobile van campaigns to promote positive hygiene practices, reaching about 250,000 people. Furthermore, training for relevant district authorities and about 400 water quality kits have been organized in all concerned districts.
    • UNICEF engaged affected communities with essential hygiene and behavioural change messages through mass media and community mobilization interventions. More than 350,000 people have been reached with information and messaging on cholera. UNICEF has also engaged 250 community leaders, including traditional leaders, village development committees, village health committees, etc., in developing local by-laws and action plans to prevent the spread of cholera and encourage health-seeking behaviour. Furthermore, UNICEF has produced and distributed 2,000 IEC materials (Posters, booklets, and leaflets) on preventing and treating cholera in key strategic places, including health facilities, places of worship, markets and water points.

[1] Source: The Government of Malawi Press Statement issued on 22 August 2022

Media contacts

Rogers Siula
Communication Officer
UNICEF Malawi
Tel: +265999522 225
Veronica Mukhuna
Communication Officer
WHO Malawi
Tel: +265999375094

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