Water for cholera prevention


Cholera cannot continue killing people every year, says Paramount Chief Kyungu of Karonga.

“Let us do all we can to curb this outbreak. It is a disgrace to our district. Let us join hands with the government to avoid this in the future,” he said at the start of a cholera vaccination campaign in the border district along the northern shoreline of Lake Malawi.

The waterborne disease, which has hit 345 people and killed seven in the worst hit district, flourishes in unsanitary conditions.

So far, the country has registered 813 cholera cases and 25 deaths in 13 districts.

A woman drinks water she has just drawn from a well

Kyungu wants authorities to roll out strict preventive measures, including bans on vending of ready-made foodstuffs and communal eating during funerals and religious gatherings

However, expanding access to safe water is part of the push to avert future outbreaks.

This is why Karonga District Council chairperson Harry Mwanyembe is excited with Northern Region Water Board (NRWB) plan to modernise and expand the district water system which supplies just 6 000 people.

“This project has come at the right time when the district needs life-changing interventions to curb waterborne diseases, especially cholera.  People are suffering due to lack of safe water. Without water, sanitation is compromised,” he says.

The number of rural Malawians with access to safe water has risen from 57.3 percent in 2000 to 89 percent in 2015.

Although great strides have been made in bringing clean water to rural communities, this access is often fragile and waterborne disease persistent among those still struggling to access water.

Recently, NRWB director of finance Francis Munthali told Karonga District Executive Committee that the $16.5 million project, expected to start this August to September 2021, involves replacement of old pipes from the intake to taps as well as the treatment plant.

The water board will also extend tap water to Pusi Trading Centre north of Karonga Town and Mlare in the south, he said.

“Water is life,” Munthali explained: “Our mandate is to reach every household with potable water. In Karonga, we have been supplying water mainly in town where the system was installed sometime back. We need to change that. Population is growing each day, raising the demand for water.”

This has excited rural dwellers earmarked to have tap water in the homes for the first time ever.

Legend has it that when cholera arrived in Malawi in the 1970s, Karonga South always recorded the highest number of patients in the district. Since NRWB installed a piped water system in Chilumba, the densely populated centres—Vinthukutu, Ponda which Chilumba Jetty, Uliwa, Mponela, Majaliro and neighbouring areas—are no longer the hardest hit.

Karonga Nyungwe in Traditional Authority Mwilang’ombe is the worst hit.

“Stakeholders need to provide safe water to these lakeshore communities where toilet use is low and human waste seeps into the lake, wells and streams where people draw water for domestic use,” explains Nyungwe Health Centre clinician-in-charge Martin Banda.

The health  centre has treated 108 cholera cases, registering three deaths.

Most patients hailed from Ngala fishing village where open defaecation is widespread.

The area falls outside the NRWB project awaiting Parliament approval in June.

Tilora, Wovwe, Nyungwe, Ngala, Gumi and Mulare shun boreholes, saying they produce salty water.

They consider untreated bucketfuls from the freshwater lake tasty.

Senior Chief Mwilang’ombe calls for a ban on migrant fishers who camp on the beach without latrines.

The chief, with support from World Vision and Malawi Red Cross Society, has deployed village-based sanitation committees to ensure every family owns and uses a clean toilet to reduce the accumulation of germs in water bodies.

“Cholera is a sign that we are eating our own excreta,” he says.

Gaps in sanitation and water services is endemic in Kaporo, where the first cholera case this rainy season was diagnosed last November.

It stretches along the Lake Malawi, where the raging outbreak has hit Rumphi, Nkhata Bay, Likoma Island and Salima.

Lilongwe, Dedza, Blantyre, Dowa, Kasungu, Chikwawa, Mulanje and Nsanje are also affected.

Minister of Health Atupele Muluzi dialled up calls to eliminate the unmet demand for safe water when he visited Mitengo in Area 36, Lilongwe City—one of the high-density locations in the capital that have recorded 281 cases and 13 deaths since December 29 when a 34-year-old man, from Chinsapo, arrived at Bwaila Hospital with acute watery diarrhoea and vomiting.

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