Malawi’s Cholera Outbreak

Self Help AfricaFeatured, Malawi, News

Malawi is in the grip of one of its worst cholera outbreaks in a generation. Early this year, the country was reporting around 500 new cases each day. From February 2022 – August 2023, there have been almost 60,000 suspected/confirmed cases and over 1,700 deaths in the country.

Health services say that up to 10 million people, half of whom are children, are at risk.

Malawi’s worst cholera outbreak in 20 years underscores the vital importance of the large-scale water, sanitation and hygiene work being undertaken in the country by Self Help Africa. 

 Since July 2022, we have worked with government authorities and partners to support more than 175,000 people across 15 districts,  supporting efforts to strengthen existing community systems,  test and treat community water sources, and provide hygiene supplies, water purification tablets and more. 

Cholera is a disease that is spread through contaminated food or water and causes acute watery diarrhoea. While many people who contract the illness have mild symptoms that can be treated successfully with oral rehydration solutions. If left untreated it can kill adults and children within hours.

Poor access to clean water, toilets and hand washing facilities often cause cholera to spread, as does inadequate handwashing in communities. 

The Government is working with UN agencies and local and international humanitarian partners – including Self Help Africa/United Purpose – to coordinate a cross-country response that includes awareness-raising campaigns, the building of water points and latrines and, where available, access to vaccines.

Self Help Africa and United Purpose are currently working in five cholera hot spots, supporting around 175,000 people with water, sanitation, and hygiene services. This includes repairing water points, testing and treating household water, and educating communities on safe hygiene practices.

While around 70% of people in Malawi have access to safe water, just a quarter (26 per cent) have access to correctly constructed and properly maintained toilets, with only 8% practicing good hygiene.

“We often see more cholera cases in the rainy season because most communities in Malawi don’t have access to safe water and many use open, shallow wells that are close to latrines,” say WASH programme manager Smorden Tomoka. “To see an outbreak of this scale during the dry season is devastating. It has exposed gaps in the water, sanitation and hygiene system here that urgently need addressing.”

So far, the Cholera Response Project has:

  • Rehabilitated 20 boreholes
  • Provided 68,000 people with improved access to clean water
  • Carried out 1,000 water sampling tests
  • Reached 150,000 people with hygiene and sanitation information
  • Provided water purification and other supplies to 150,000 people