Geneva Palais briefing on the cholera outbreak in Malawi

This is a summary of what was said by Rudolf Schwenk UNICEF Representative in Malawi – to whom quoted text may be attributed - at today's press briefing at the Palais des Nations in Geneva

07 March 2023

GENEVA/LILONGWE, 7 March, 2023 – “Malawi is experiencing the deadliest cholera outbreak in its recorded history. The country is also struggling to respond to a polio outbreak and ongoing COVID-19 cases across the nation. Resources are limited, the health system is overburdened, and health workers are stretched to their limits. These are incredibly difficult times for the children of Malawi.

"Since the outbreak was officially announced just over one year ago, cholera has spread to all 29 districts in the country, affecting more than 50,000 people with over 1,500 deaths (as of 2 March). Of these more than 12,000 children have contracted cholera and 197 have died.

"The conditions for this lethal cholera outbreak were likely caused by Tropical storms Ana and Gombe which hit Malawi just over a year ago, combined with chronic underfunding on water and sanitation infrastructure, and a disruption of cholera prevention campaigns due to COVID-19. And as this year’s rainy season reaches its peak, UNICEF is extremely concerned that - without immediate and adequate action - this outbreak will worsen. Combine this with the ongoing annual lean season - when millions of Malawians are expected to be food insecure – and children are suffering most as a result of this crisis. As the planet warms, Malawi is likely to be hit by worse climate induced hazards such as stronger storms and droughts.

"Today an estimated 4.8 million children, or one in two children in the country, are in humanitarian need. By the end of March, almost a quarter of a million children (more than 213,000) under five years of age are expected to be acutely malnourished, with over 62,000 expected to be severely malnourished. As a severely malnourished child is 11 times more likely to die from cholera than a well-nourished child, a bout of cholera may amount to a death sentence for thousands of children in Malawi.  

"Such crises are very stressful for individuals and families and often lead to negative coping mechanisms, increased level of violence in homes and communities placing women and children in particularly vulnerable situations.

“Since the first case was reported about a year ago, together with the World Health Organization and other partners, UNICEF has supported the Government of Malawi in controlling transmission and minimizing the fatality rate through the training of response teams at all levels, providing equipment and essential supplies, life-saving drugs, safe water, and disseminating cholera prevention, treatment, and hygiene promotion messages in affected and cholera-prone areas. But we are now short of funds and supplies.

“Because of the enormous needs, UNICEF is appealing for US$ 52.4 million to provide lifesaving supplies, services, and technical support in water, sanitation, and hygiene; health and HIV; education; nutrition; child protection; and social protection, with social behaviour change interventions integrated across all sectors.”

"To prevent future outbreaks of cholera, we have to support the country with significant investments in health, water and sanitation infrastructure.”

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