Malawi is experiencing the deadliest cholera outbreak in its history, say World Health Organization officials, who note that the disease has left more than 1,200 people dead and nearly 37,000 others infected since March of last year.The U.N. released a statement Thursday as an update on the situation.
Cholera is an “acute enteric infection caused by ingesting the bacteria ‘Vibrio cholerae’ present in contaminated water or food,” according to WHO. The agency says Malawi’s government declared the outbreak as a public health emergency in December.
Most people infected with cholera do not experience symptoms, and if they do, the symptoms are mild. However, more severe cases can become fatal within hours if untreated as the infected develop “acute watery diarrhea and vomiting leading to severe dehydration.”
Cholera is easily treatable through “prompt administration of oral rehydration solution (ORS) and successful rehydration therapy,” according to WHO.
The WHO has taken measures to address the outbreak, such as drafting a national cholera outbreak response plan, deploying national rapid response teams in the affected areas, and collecting data.
The United Nations administered two large vaccination campaigns, but due to limited supplies, they only offered one of the usual two doses. The second batch sent in November contained 3 million vaccines and all were used. Malawi is a nation of nearly 20 million people.
Twenty-three countries are currently experiencing outbreaks, according to WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. Twenty more countries that share borders with the affected nations are also at risk. “In total, more than one billion people around the world are directly at risk of cholera,” the French news agency quoted him as saying.
WHO “assesses the risk of this outbreak to be very high at national and regional level,” according to an agency statement. “There is an urgent need to improve access to safe water sanitation and hygiene.”
Some information from this report came from Agence France-Presse.