In the fight against cholera, customers in Mozambique collect bottles of chlorine after receiving a text message with a code that allows them to pick up a bottle. (AFP)

Mozambique at high risk of cholera outbreak

Flooding, displacement and poor access to humanitarian aid are creating an ideal environment for the surge of cholera in Mozambique, warns an NGO.

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 north Mozambique town of Pemba, in Cabo Delgado Province.

Leonard Heyerdahl, project manager of Africhol – an initiative of Paris-based NGO Agence de Médecine Préventive, working in cooperation with the government's National Institute of Health – told Integrated Regional Information Networks that from January 30, "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 that in such conditions "one case of cholera is already an epidemic".

The areas where the National Institute of Health has identified confirmed cholera cases are Pemba, Mecufi and Metuge. The institute was also testing samples from other provinces, including south Mozambique.

Both north and south Mozambique have been affected by heavy rains and floods. The UN's resident coordinator's office in Mozambique said that since "major flooding" began in January, 69 people have been killed.

'213 000 people affected'
A February 8 situation report by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs 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 south Mozambique over the coming week … Also, moderate-to-heavy rains are forecasted over central and northern Mozambique," the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs 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.

Last week, the Mail & Guardian reported that humanitarian agencies are pioneering the use of mobile phones to distribute aid in Mozambique. The mobile initiative is the latest "e-health" tactic to get aid to flood victims in the southern African nation, hit by the worst deluge in over a decade.

Mobile phones have been used during humanitarian crises such as the 2010 earthquake in Haiti to track and coordinate relief efforts. But using text messages to distribute products is new and its developers are trying to insert this into the traditional, large-scale emergency response. – Irin

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