Southern African countries face “terrifying and overwhelming” cholera outbreak

January 17, 2024

Southern African countries face “terrifying and overwhelming” cholera outbreak as Covid19 cases begin to rise again, Oxfam warns.

Southern African countries including Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia and Zimbabwe are facing an unprecedented surge of cholera cases, warns Oxfam. The situation could become uncontrollable and difficult to managed due to steady increase of Covid19 cases and the onset of rainy season in the region which has further compromised hygiene among vulnerable communities – a majority of whom have no access to clean water and sanitation facilities.

Southern African countries need to address some systemic public health issues that are fueling the spread of cholera outbreak, including ensuring that people have access to improved sanitation, waste management and safe clean water.

In the last seven days, Zambia alone has recorded 3 468 new cases and 124 deaths, including babies, on top of more than 9500 cases and 374 deaths since October 2023. In just one week to January 4, Zambia’s Ministry of Health reported a 71.2% jump in cases and 175% more deaths in the country’s capital, Lusaka. The Zambian government has been forced to delay the reopening of schools by three weeks and has designated the 60,000-seat National Heroes Stadium as a treatment centre to ease pressure on health facilities.

Zimbabwe has recorded 1,839 cases and 39 deaths in the last seven days. It has seen 16,568 cases and 67 confirmed deaths – with a further 297 suspected deaths – since February last year.  Mozambique suffered its deadliest cholera outbreak in 25 years between 2022 and 2023 when it had over 37,000 cholera cases. In the last 24 hours, Mozambique has recorded 74 new cases.

Malawi, which declared the outbreak a public health emergency last year, has put out a higher alert following the surge in Zambia. The country recorded 47 cases and two deaths between November and December 2023, totaling 1700 deaths since the outbreak in November 2022.

“The unprecedented rate of cases and deaths is terrifying, and utterly overwhelming the health systems of these countries.  The outbreak is spiraling into an uncontrollable health crisis and news that health workers in Zambia are also texting positive for Covid calls for an urgent multipronged response,” said Machinda Marongwe, Oxfam in Southern Programme Director.

“Governments and agencies in the region need immediate funding to swiftly implement activities and projects that would help improve people’s hygiene and access to clean water, since these two factors are key in the fight against the spread”.

While Oxfam, its partners and other agencies have been implementing various projects to curb the spread, the rate at which the outbreak is spreading and resurfacing calls for more investment.

Zvidzai Maburutse, Oxfam in Southern Africa Humanitarian Lead, said: “We urgently need to scale-up people’s access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene awareness, and distribute many basic hygiene materials to impacted communities – but we urgently need more funding”.

Currently, according to Southern Africa Development Community (SADC), only 61% of the region’s population has access to safe drinking water and only two out of every five people have access to adequate sanitation. This is undoubtedly fueling the spread of the outbreak.

“The challenge with many Zambians now is information gap on how they can prevent contracting cholera and this is exacerbated with lack of access to clean and safe water but also sanitation facilities”, says Ezra Banda of Keepers Zambia Foundation, Oxfam cholera response implementing partner.

Since the outbreak last year, Oxfam has been closely working with local partners and various government departments and ministries in Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia and Zimbabwe to support affected communities. It has provided more than 1.5 million people with hygiene kits and access to clean water, including by drilling and rehabilitating boreholes, and installing solar powered water pumping and distribution systems in public health facilities and markets. Oxfam and partners have also been conducting awareness campaigns to help curb the spread of the outbreak.

“Oxfam, together with partners aim to reach 4.5 million people across Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia and Zimbabwe with clean water, sanitation and hygiene awareness, as well as with basic hygiene materials. But $3 million is urgently needed to scale up our operations”, says Marongwe.


Notes to editors

  • Oxfam and partners are working in Zimbabwe, Malawi, Mozambique and Zambia supporting affected communities with hygiene kits, conducting awareness raising to promote good hygiene practices, water quality monitoring, rehabilitation of water points and setting up bucket chlorination points in public places including markets and health facilities.
  • In Zambia, Oxfam and partners, Keepers Zambia Foundation, are a conducting a door-to-door distribution of hygiene kits to affected households in Lusaka.
  • In Zimbabwe, over 550 thousand people have been reached and supported with Cholera Response kits, hygiene promotion activities, water quality monitoring, rehabilitation of water points and setting up bucket chlorination points
  • In Malawi, Oxfam has supported 70 thousand people with various interventions including the rehabilitation of water pumping and distribution system at Katuli Health Centre in Mangochi district, rehabilitated 42 boreholes and drilling of six boreholes and distribution of cholera hygiene kits.

Media contact

Vita Sgardello, manager, Communications, , 613-799-0234.

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