WHO Malawi leads the health Sector’s response to the people severely affected cyclone Idai

Lilongwe 24 April 2019 - The torrential rains did not stop for three days and nights. It was on the fourth night that the walls gave way from the mud brick house that Eunice Sopo and her three children called home.

Parts of Mozambique and eastern Zimbabwe had been swept away before Cyclone Idai’s torrential rains hit Malawi, creating extraordinary flood conditions that swept away homes, crops and lives. At least 60 people died and approximately 87,000 have been displaced (source, OCHA).

Eunice Sopo tells of her loss, “In my sleep I heard one of the walls fall. We’ve lost everything to the rains; my house and belongings, and two of my children have been diagnosed with malaria. I don’t know what to do. It’s still raining now and it’s impossible for me to mold bricks for a house. Rebuilding my life is a hard one. I have to rely on my friends to give me food like pumpkins. As you can see my crops have been destroyed. During my stay here at the camp, two of my three children fell ill. Both of my kids didn’t go to school and they were vomiting and they had fever and because there was an outreach clinic running at this camp. When they were examined they were diagnosed with malaria. So they were treated with anti-malarial medicine and after taking the medication for four days, the children got better.”

Ndungunya Village, Phalombe
Eunice Sopo outside her destroyed home. Photo: WHO/Mark NIEUWENHOF
Camp for internally displaced persons is set up at a local school in Ndungunya village. Photo: WHO/Mark NIEUWENHOF
The emergency response continues in Malawi, a month after Cyclone Idai.

WHO is coordinating 12 partner agencies including UNICEF, MSF, the Society of Medical Doctors, UNFPA and numerous non-governmental organizations to ensure that communities are provided with services they need, quickly and efficiently.  

Brian Asiimwe, WHO’s sub-national health cluster coordinator says, “The World Health Organization brings together numerous healthcare partners and coordination is improving. Furthermore, disease surveillance has been heightened in camps, communities and health facilities. Primary healthcare at outreach clinics is ongoing and a measles vaccination campaign is underway.”

The WHO is facilitating outreach clinics, providing medicines and cholera kits. At the Maluwa camp outreach health clinic, mothers with infants and the elderly surge towards doctors, jostling to get treatment and medicine.
At the Maluwa camp health outreach clinic, a doctor attends to the many clients waiting. Photo: WHO/Mark NIEUWENHOF
Malaria is a concern here with approximately 50% of those presenting themselves to outreach clinics being diagnosed with this parasitic infection. This is not unusual for this region where malaria is endemic but notably, it is the severity of malaria that stands out. Epidemiologist Rawi Ibrahim says that, “Malaria will affect the people here worse because their health has become more vulnerable.” The lack of food, homelessness and anxieties about the future all contribute weakened physical and mental wellbeing.

The rise in malaria is also attributed to malarial mosquitos breeding in stagnant floodwaters.
Rapid diagnostic testing is used to test for malaria. Photo: WHO/Mark NIEUWENHOF
The Maluwa camp health outreach clinic also provides medicine. Photo: WHO/Mark NIEUWENHOF
Agnes Kunthani a Nursing Officer working at the Maluwa camp health outreach clinic, “We are here to provide health care services to the people living in the camps. When we arrive at the camp, the procedure is, we made an assessment of the living conditions. We also assessed the health status of the people to find out those that are very sick and need immediate attention. In the team, we are comprised of nurses, doctors, data clerks and laboratory personnel who are able to diagnose malaria and HIV, as well as pharmacy staff who dispense medicines. The most common conditions are diarrhoea, scabies and malaria. Because of the flood there is an increase in workload and depletion of the district drug budget,” Agnes said.
Ketwinn Kondowe the Phalombe District Health Officer states, “Since it was an emergency we needed drugs and transport to reach these camps but the situation was that malaria, diarrhoea, skin conditions, respiratory infections were all increasing. The World Health Organization came to our rescue. They provided logistics to enable us to establish outreach clinics; additionally, the WHO had previously supported us in disaster preparedness.”

From now onwards, some people will return home, others will stay in camps. For the foreseeable future the outreach healthcare services will stay.
A South African army helicopter lands at Bona village. Photo: WHO/Mark NIEUWENHOF
On the banks of the Phalombe River lies Bona village in the Chitekse area. Here, the South African army landed its helicopter delivering health services to this village and other flood affected communities. The SA army medical and the Malawi Defence Force medics are prescribing much needed medicines like antibiotics, analgesics and anti-malaria drugs. The cyclone’s torrential rains saw rivers rising above embankments and washing away homes, crops and lives.
South African army and Malawi Defence Force personnel dispensing medicine. Photo: WHO/Mark NIEUWENHOF
Army personnel and boxes of supplies
A South African army helicopter loaded with essential medicines. Photo: WHO/Mark NIEUWENHOF
According to USAID, 80% of the population are small holder farmers. The cyclone’s timing was further devastating – hitting Malawi during harvest. Annual maize crops provide a sizable portion of the population’s diet and normally lasts until the following year’s harvest. The World Food Programme is distributing rice, cooking oil and maize to communities. Some areas have been entirely cut off with bridges washed away to exacerbate the difficulties of food distribution which will need to continue over the dry season into October.
The Malawi government is providing emergency food supplies to the affected areas. Photo: WHO/Mark NIEUWENHOF
WHO continues to work closely with the Ministry of Health and other partners to improve data compilation and sharing so that healthcare services, disease surveillance and other resources or services can be provided to the hundreds of thousands of people impacted by Cyclone Idai. 
For Additional Information or to Request Interviews, Please contact:
Hudson Wenji Kubwalo

Health Promotion Officer
Tel: 0888878011
Email: kubwaloh [at] who.int

Sarah Cumberland

Communications Officer for the Mozambique Response
WhatsApp: +41 79 206 1403
Email: cumberlands [at] who.int