Mozambique - The fight against disease increases

The next two to eight weeks are critical for Mozambique's health and aid workers fighting the threat of potential cholera and malaria epidemics, said the World Health Organization (WHO) today.
The threat of a malaria epidemic in the country is increasing and will be at its most dangerous in around three to six weeks time as floodwaters gradually subside, the rains stop and warm temperatures return - ideal breeding conditions for mosquitoes.

Suspected cholera cases are also on the rise with two special treatment centres set up in Maputo City and a third expected to open today (Friday) at Machava. The fact that so many people are currently displaced also increases the threat of disease.

Acute diarrhoea cases have increased significantly in Maputo City and 14 out of 100 diarrhoea patients tested recently tested positive for cholera.

Two areas badly affected by flooding, Xai Xai and Chibuto districts, have already seen very clear increases in the number of malaria cases compared to last year. Many other parts of the country have not yet reported an increased number of malaria cases compared to the same period last year.

The Mozambique Ministry of Health has prepared a three month Malaria Emergency Control Plan supported by key UN health agencies including WHO and UNICEF. The plan includes strategies for:

  • early diagnosis and treatment for malaria
  • mosquito population control
  • protecting people against mosquito bites (mainly through the distribution of insecticide treated bednets)

Areas at risk of serious malaria outbreaks continued to be sprayed with insecticides today in an effort to keep the local mosquito populations down. Spraying operations are underway in Xai Xai and Chibuto and preparations are underway in the Chokwe district.

In addition to the cholera treatment centres a major health education programme is underway to warn the population on how best to prevent the disease. This includes a door to door campaign and health activists working in the community. Water supplies are also being chlorinated as an extra precaution.

The WHO Representative for Mozambique, Dr Carlos Tiny, said: "Cholera and malaria remain our biggest health threats. Health workers are also seeing more acute diarrhoea cases every day. We are under a tremendous amount of pressure here to keep ahead of this problem."

"These diseases are preventable. We are doing all we can to slow the spread of disease but there are areas where people still do not have access to clean water or shelter and so they are obviously more at risk."

The number of cholera cases is expected to increase. While the exact increase cannot be predicted, cholera and other diarrhoeal diseases will remain a concern as long as sanitation conditions and access to safe drinking water are inadequate in the affected provinces.

WHO co-ordinates the Southern African Malaria Control Programme. WHO and UNICEF are the main partners in the global Roll Back Malaria (RBM) movement. RBM aims to see global malaria deaths halved by the year 2010. Other partner organisations include The World Bank, UNDP, national governments and NGOs.

African Heads of State will be meeting next month to look at how best to accelerate the rolling back of malaria in the continent. The Nigerian government is hosting the Summit Meeting on Rolling Back Malaria in Africa, in Abuja, Nigeria on April 25th with WHO support. The Summit is expected to draw on Mozambique's experiences of tackling malaria following a disaster.

For further information from WHO, journalists can contact Gregory Hartl, WHO Spokesperson, WHO, Geneva, tel (+41 22) 791 4458, fax (+41 22) 791 4858. or, in Mozambique, Andy Seale, tel (+258 1) 492732,