By Owen Nyaka:
Climate change is disrupting many ways of life in Africa and beyond. Climate change has increased the risk of disease outbreaks Mpox, wild polio, measles, COVID-19 including by causing extreme weather events such as floods and droughts.
The cholera outbreak that has devastated Malawi for instance is an aftermath of tropical cyclones Ana, Gombe and Freddy. The rise in cholera cases and geographical spread is happening in the context of natural disasters such as flooding in Nigeria, drought in Kenya and Ethiopia as well as conflict in Cameroon and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
Malawi which is going through the worse tragedies ever encountered with effects of cyclone Freddy has cumulative confirmed cases as of 16th March were 52, 120 with 1,660 total deaths according to Public Health Institute of Malawi (PHIM) and that the number of people who have died due to Tropical Cyclone Freddy has reached 326 and the number of displaced people has more than doubled to 183,159, with that of households displaced by the natural phenomenon now at 40,702 and 201 still missing according to President Chakwera evening address yesterday.
Cholera epidemics and climate change related public health emergencies concerns are cross-cutting. Since the beginning of this year, 13 African Union (AU) Member States have been reported outbreaks of cholera.
And over 3,000 deaths have occurred across the twelve (12) Africa countries including the Common Market for Eastern and Southern African (COMESA) treaty and seven (7) of these countries are in the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) region.
While COMESA and SADC regions re intertwined for common goal to promote regional integration though trade and economic development including alleviate poverty. Nevertheless, poverty and conflict are major triggers of cholera.
Africa Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Acting Director, Dr. Ahmed Ogwell OUMA told a recent high-level emergency ministerial meeting on cholera epidemics and climate related public health emergencies held in Malawi’s capital, Lilongwe – that “our response to these public health threats will require robust inter-sectoral and cross-border collaboration”.
“It will require timely sharing of information for quick action. It will require the concerted and coordinated efforts of all of us–Member States, intergovernmental organisation, partners, and the public–so that we minimize the risks of climate change on public health,” said Dr. OUMA.
He said the lessons that has been drown from COVID-19 pandemic re now being brought forward to support the work in other outbreaks such us cholera and other climate-related emergencies. “We learnt that early coordination by our Member States is key for successful cross-border action”.
When the first case of COVID-19 was documented in Africa, two years ago, Africa CDC and the AU called an emergency meeting of health ministers on 22nd February 2020. The outcome was a Joint Continental Strategy that guided the successful control of the pandemic.
The Heads of State and Government then met every 2 weeks to provide Africa CDC and the AU with valuable guidance and decisions – this unprecedented regular meeting of principals ensured that Africa CDC had the platform and resources it required to effectively coordinate COVID-19 response on the continent.
At the same time, they also convened sectoral meetings at ministerial level – ministers of health, finance, transport, and education – to provide policy guidance for the continent’s response.
More recently when Ebola Disease Outbreak was reported in Uganda, the Africa CDC also convened, in collaboration with WHO, an emergency ministerial meeting held in Uganda whose result was the rapid control of that outbreak and a regional approach to prevention and resilience.
“Today we are bringing these lessons here to Malawi and we are confident that we will achieve good results going forward. Early coordination works. Cross border action is vital and every Member State and partner has a crucial role to play”, says Dr. OUMA.
The Lilongwe high level emergency ministerial meeting was attended by 14 countries namely; Angola, Botswana, Comoros, DR Congo, Eswatini, Lesotho, Madagascar, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, United Republic of Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe and the host Malawi.
Namibia last experienced Cholera outbreak in the year 2014 but it is not spared from climatic conditions that could fuel cholera outbreak. Recently they experienced floods in the northern regions due to rains in southern Angola.
Namibia’s Deputy Minister Dr Esther Utjiua Muinjangue said if there is fire in your neighbour’s house you do not wait until it gets to you. You either go out to assist your neighbor or and prepare to respond in case the fire spread to you.
She said “for us who are not experiencing cholera outbreaks at the moment, this platform provides an opportunity for us to grasp the best practices and note the challenges experienced by our fellow brothers and sisters, for us not to re-invent the wheel as we continue to strengthen our systems and remain vigilant”.
Addition, “Namibia pledges to collaborate with all Member States especially bordering countries to ensure that the deliberations of this meeting are actioned upon. Namibia join other Member States and commit to:
Undertake urgent actions to facilitate cooperation and collaboration with other member States in fight against cholera and concoct approaches for communities to resilient to withstand climate related public health emergency by adequately prepare, promptly respond for sustainable control.
Amongst others the Lilongwe high-level emergency ministerial meeting came up with joint communique in which they commit to undertake urgent actions to facilitate cooperation and collaboration amongst AU Member States for cholera, and climate related public health emergency preparedness, readiness, response, recovery and sustainable control.
In solidarity which is also in line with the commitment made during the high-level meeting, so far neighboring countries Zambia and United Republic of Tanzania have assisted Malawi.
Tanzania High Commission to Malawi has issued statement today saying President Dr. Samia Suluhu Hassan and the people of Tanzania in solidarity with the people and citizens of Malawi though generous contribution of cash and supplies for humanitarian assistance worth one (1) million United States dollars.
In additional, Tanzania has provide two Military Heavy Helicopters to support rescue exercise and provision of humanitarian assistance to the affected people.
The Military Helicopters will be supported by a total of 100 service men and women consisting of engineers, drivers, medical personnel, logistical personnel and air assets operators and supplies for humanitarian assistance include mattresses, tents, blankets and about 100 metric tons of maize flower have commenced their travel by road to the affected areas in Malawi.
Still in solidarity, the Global Cholera Elimination Champion, His Excellency Hakainde Hichilema who is also President and Commander in Chief of Defense Force in Zambia has authorized the M18 search and rescue aircraft to immediately come to the aid of their sister country and it landed in Lilongwe on Friday, March 17 to deliver the first tranche of supplies.
Zambia’s aid effort include 100 metric tons of maize which is in transit from Zambia’s town of Chipata to Malawi’s capital Lilongwe, 300 tents, 300 blankets, 300 mosquito nets, 1000 dignity kits, 50 bags of 50kgs bens, 1, 000 kitchen sets, 1, 000 salt dozens, and 1,000 chlorine .
In all this Cyclone Freddy crisis, when Malawians are dying, displaced, starving and suffering the consequences it is not alone, the bloc has joined forces and provided the necessary required help and support massively and this is how the African ubunthu should supposed to be.
It is likely that this climate change disruption would increase waterborne diseases and cases of cholera in Malawi. The good part of it is that there are numerous existing frameworks, protocols, declarations, strategies and agreements that can help by ending cholera and this include the SADC hygiene Strategy 2021-2025.