Epidemics Feared After Floods
14 April 2000
by Diana Mavunduse
This is the second in a four part series on the impact of floods in southern Afn.ca.
The flooding in southern Africa that has devastated some parts of the region, leaving hundreds dead
and around 1.25 million people homeless, has increased the risk of epidemics such as malaria and
cholera in the region.
Having worked for weeks to ensure that flood victims are rescued and given shelter, aid workers and
governments are now focusing on getting medicine:) to the displaced people.
"The priority now is to make sure that the public health delivery system in the affected countries is
working efficiently to avert the possibility of epidemics," said President Festus Mogae of Botswana at
an emergency summit in Maputo.
Health ministries in the affected countries have issued a maximum alert against a possible outbreak of
cholera and malaria, particularly in the accommodation centres, where hundreds of thousand of people
have found shelter after losing their homes to the floods.
The alert follows an alarming increase in the number of cases of diarrhoea and malaria cases.
While Mozambique has suffered the bulk of the disaster, Botswana, South Africa, Zambia and
Zimbabwe have all been affected.
In Botswana, it is estimated that in the coming months, about 100,000 people are going to be infected
with malaria. The health minister, Joy Phumaphi, said, "In the flooded areas, about 1 ,500 patients are
currently suffering from malaria while an additional 13,000 people have begun showing symptoms of
In Mozambique, "the overcrowded conditions under which the displaced people now live pose a
danger of an outbreak of both malaria and cholera, which could affect at least 800,000 people," said
World Health Organisation (WHO) representative in Mozambique, Carlos Tiny.
He added, that as a mosquito-infected region, malaria will pose a bigger health problem for all the
flood victims in southern Africa.
Birkinesh Ameneshewa, a malaria entomologist for the WHO-Southern Africa Malaria Control
Programme (WHOMSAMC) based in Zimbabwe, said, "Malaria is one of the causes of sickness and
death in the region. It kills between 200,000 and 300,000 people each year."
More are expected to die if nothing is done to prevent the disease. WHOMSAMC has advised that
urgent resettlement of displaced people in Mozambique because the accommodation centres are
overcrowded and lack supplies of clean drinking water and other basic sanitation conditions.
Displaced people affected with cholera have been isolated and mobile clinics have been set up in
affected areas, where teams have been dispatched to treat patients.
"Sanitary conditions and water treatment facilities have been put in place to limit the effects of a
cholera and malaria epidemic throughout the affected parts," said Ameneshewa.
women and children under five," added Ameneshewa.
However, the displacement of people and the badly damaged roads have made it more difficult for
proper control measures to be carried out because people are scattered in small groups.
To combat this problem, the regional malaria control programme in collaboration with the health
ministries in the affected countries is trying to gather all the displaced people and put them in larger
WHOSAMC added that health personnel working on malaria control in the region frequently
faced poor or no access to updated malaria books, manuals and journals.
Southern Africa is facing malaria threat at a time when it is experiencing a shortage of malaria
specialists. Friedrich Mareien, a South African expert said, "the immediate diagnosis of malaria in
southern Africa is an important component in the battle against the disease but was not readily
available in most rural health centres."
Diagnosis of malaria is a difficult process that requires skills of highly trained microscopists to detect
the plasmodium in stained blood slides. Rural areas are disadvantaged because of lack of such
"It is of paramount importance to bring diagnosis as close as possible to the people. Community
leaders such as chiefs should be pivotal in community health efforts," added Mareien.
African leaders are meeting in Nigeria on 25 April to look at how best the disease can be rolled back in
Africa. WHO said the summit "is expected to draw on Mozambique's experience of tackling malaria
following a disaster." (SARDC)