Access to safe water and basic sanitation is critical to prevent the transmission of cholera.
Photo: © Riccardo Mayer/

Southern African countries struggling with cholera outbreak

The situation in four in Southern Africa countries could become uncontrollable, Oxfam says, pointing to the rising number of cholera cases and the limited access to clean water.

Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia and Zimbabwe are facing an unprecedented surge of cholera cases, Oxfam warned in January 2024. The aid agency says the situation could become difficult to manage due to a steady increase of Covid19 cases and the onset of the rainy season, especially as the majority of vulnerable communities have no access to clean water and sanitation facilities – both of which are essential to prevent the spread of cholera. 

Machinda Marongwe, Oxfam in Southern Africa Programme Director, said: “The unprecedented rate of cases and deaths is terrifying, and is utterly overwhelming the health systems of these countries. The outbreak is spiralling into an uncontrollable health crisis, and news that health workers in Zambia are also testing positive for Covid calls for an urgent multipronged response.”

In just one week in January, Zambia’s capital, Lusaka, saw an over 70 per cent jump in cases and a 175 per cent increase in deaths. The Zambian government has been forced to delay the reopening of schools by three weeks and has designated the national football stadium as a treatment centre to ease pressure on health facilities.

Zimbabwe has seen 16,568 cases and 67 confirmed deaths – with a further 297 suspected deaths – since February last year. Mozambique has seen its deadliest cholera outbreak in decades, with over 37,000 cases over the past year. 

“Governments and agencies in the region need immediate funding to swiftly implement activities and projects that would help improve people’s hygiene and access to clean water, since these two factors are key in the fight against the spread,” Marongwe said. 

According to Southern Africa Development Community (SADC), only 61 per cent of the region's population currently has access to safe drinking water, and only two out of every five people have access to adequate sanitation.  

Ezra Banda of Keepers Zambia Foundation, Oxfam’s partner implementing the cholera response, explains: “The challenge with many Zambians now is an information gap on how they can prevent contracting cholera and this is exacerbated by a lack of access to clean and safe water but also sanitation facilities.” 

Since the outbreak in 2022, Oxfam has been closely working with local partners and government departments and ministries in Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia and Zimbabwe to support affected communities. It has provided more than 1.5 million people with hygiene kits and access to clean water, including by drilling and rehabilitating boreholes, installing solar powered water pumping and distribution systems in public health facilities and markets. Oxfam and partners have also been conducting awareness campaigns to help curb the spread of the outbreak. However, the agency says a further USD 3 million is needed in order to scale up its response.


Read more on the Oxfam website

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