Lack of Clean Water Worsens Cholera Situation in Makhetha

Death trap; unprotected water source at Makhetha Death trap; unprotected water source at Makhetha - pic by Enock Phiri

Malawi has a long way to go to contain the current cholera outbreak.

For instance, our visit to Chinupule village in Makhetha in Blantyre found people still fetching water from wells which are very close to pit latrines.

Most of those that we found drawing water in multiple wells were women and girls. Most of the houses here are made of mud bricks with others grass thatched, clearly demonstrating that the majority of people living here are of low-income bracket.

We also noted that water kiosks are dry. No wonder, this is the epicentre of the outbreak in the area.

A 56-year-old woman, Malita Malirani Phiri blames authorities for failing to provide them with boreholes or tap water.

“We do not have any alternative. As you can see, most of us fetch water from wells and use it for drinking, cooking and bathing. We do not even have chlorine to treat this water. With the high population here, we are really facing public health challenges,” said Phiri.

She then asked duty bearers to act fast by providing them with clean water in order to contain the disease. “It may be a borehole or a functioning public water kiosk,” she said.

Another woman, who refused to give us her name but was nursing her six-year old cholera boy at Makhetha health centre, suspects that her child drank unsafe water or ate contaminated foods.

“We are facing serious water challenges in our homes, I think we need urgent support here in Makhetha and other townships such as Limbe and Bangwe,” said she, who looks in her 30’She added that she was pleased that her child was recovering, promising that after being discharged from the hospital, she will follow all preventive cholera measures as advised by the health officials.

“I have been advised to make sure that we always eat hot food and drink safe water. I have also been taught on how I can treat water with chlorine, I will also pass this information to my fellow women so that we should never come here again with infected children,” explained the woman.

Nkolokoti ward councilor, Mary Kachale, says apart from water challenges, rampant dumping of waste and baby diapers in streams has aggravated the cholera outbreak.

“Cholera is really causing problems here. As I am talking to you, we have 36 new cases of cholera including children admitted at Makhetha health facility.

“It is pathetic that people continue to dump diapers in rivers which others use for domestic purposes. We advise people to treat the water they want to drink with chlorine, eat hot foods and adhere to all hygiene measures in order to curb this disease,” said Kachale.

She further asked the government, development partners and well-wishers to provide admitted cholera patients with food aid saying most of them are starving. “There is hunger in this area, so some patients on treatment are failing to get food,” the ward councilor said.

While at Chinupule, villagers were also heard saying that some people are utilizing the heavy rains to empty their septic tanks and toilets into the streams thereby fueling the spreading of cholera there.

This information was collaborated by an official from Blantyre district health office, Catherine Mwapasa.

She said they caught one person doing this who later challenged them that he was ready to pay a penalty of K20, 000 to the Blantyre City Council.

“So, we think there should be tough laws to punish such perpetrators,” said Mwapasa.

According to one of UNICEF Malawi reports on Water, Sanitation and Hygiene, although 67 percent of Malawi’s households have access to drinking water, distribution among districts and between urban and rural areas is uneven.

Improved drinking water sources are more common in urban areas at 87 per cent compared to 63 per cent in rural areas. In rural areas, 37 per cent of households spend 30 minutes or more to fetch drinking water in comparison to 13 percent in urban areas.

The report further says poor sanitation and hygiene are major contributors to the burden of disease and child survival, costing Malawi US$57 million each year, or 1.1 per cent of national GDP, due to health costs and productivity losses.

Chairperson for Parliamentary Committee on Health, Dr. Mathews Ngwale says the government should swiftly take the water supply system as a national issue to address the current cholera situation in the country.

“This outbreak if you look at it, the main problem is water supply. If the people do not draw water from these dirty sources then where? The answer to that question is that the government should provide safe drinking water to its people. We have been neglecting this for a long time.

“We are a very lucky country, we have the whole Lake Malawi with fresh water, we also have the Shire river running in the whole southern region with the freshwater, and then we find people in Bangwe, Makhetha, Limbe Zingwangwa, Chilomoni drinking dirty water?” questioned Dr Ngwale.

Public health expert, professor Adamson Muula concurred with Dr Ngwale saying clean water must be provided to all citizens in the country in order to contain the outbreak urgently.

“We have been saying this for a long time. I think this is the right time to act. People should be provided with clean water, this will assist us to curb cholera,” said Professor Muula.

Blantyre district health office medical officer, Dr. Miriam Jere Nyasulu says cholera is still causing havoc in the district with 3,184 total cases and 125 deaths.

Meanwhile, Water and Sanitation Minister, Abida Mia says she will visit Makhetha on Monday to see for herself the current situation.

“I want to liaise with Blantyre Water Board (BWB) officials to visit the area and make ways on how to further assist the people,” said minister Mia.

Earlier, Mia ordered BWB to use water bowsers to provide clean water to residents and ensure that all water kiosks that had outstanding bills with the board be put on hold and allowed to operate to ensure smooth water supply to people amid the cholera outbreak. 

As of January 10, 2023, the outbreak had killed over 731 people with slightly over 22, 010 total cases in the country.

Sustainable Development Goal 6.1 aims to achieve universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water for all with 6.2 goals to achieve access to adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all, and end open defecation, paying special attention to the needs of women and girls and those in vulnerable situations by 2030.

Apart from this cholera outbreak which Malawi is experiencing, the country reported its last largest outbreak occurring from October 2001 to April 2002, which affected 26 of the 29 districts, with 33 546 cases and 968 deaths.

With cholera hitting hard in the densely populated urban areas mainly Blantyre and Lilongwe, it is not known when the outbreak will be contained.

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Last modified on Monday, 16/01/2023

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