Children have been hardest hit in Zambia, accounting for one in three deaths to date. The reason for this is that most infected toddlers often show little symptoms.
Yankho Mataya, country director for the charity WaterAid, said she has heard of many instances where parents have easily mistaken their child’s crying for routine development, like teething, when the child was infected with cholera and needed urgent medical treatment.
She urged all families to treat illnesses and symptoms as potential cholera cases until proven otherwise: “No child should die from cholera. Do not hesitate if your child is showing mild symptoms – seek urgent medical care for your loved ones before it’s too late.”
Local authorities and aid groups are doing what they can to fight the outbreak.
The Zambian government has resorted to deferring the national reopening of schools and universities after the Christmas break until February 12, meaning tens of thousands of students have missed out on several weeks of education.
Organisations like WaterAid are providing immediate relief in the form of aid kits, which include washing soaps, diapers and sanitary towels. Two hundred of these packs have been distributed to mothers and children receiving care at the National Heroes Stadium.
A simmering crisis
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has meanwhile provided more than 14 tons of cholera kits and medical supplies to the government, enough to treat about 3,000 mild to severe cases of cholera.
“This catastrophic cholera epidemic must be a wake-up call … to increase funding for water, hygiene and sanitation, especially as we see climate change fuelling the global surge in outbreaks,” said Robert Kampala, the Southern Africa regional director for WaterAid.
Although Zambia’s outbreak was first declared in October, it had been simmering away for many months before that.
The current surge first broke out in the wake of Cyclone Freddy, which caused flooding across much of Southern Africa in January 2023.
The storm was unique in its longevity, raging for five weeks, and the intensity of its rainfall. In Malawi, it dumped the equivalent of half a season’s worth of rain in just six days.