Lilongwe – Ministers of Health and Water and Sanitation and Environment from 11 southern African countries today called for urgent action to facilitate cooperation and collaboration on the preparedness, readiness and response to address cholera epidemics, other waterborne diseases and climate-related public health emergencies.
With 130,705 cholera cases and including 3052 deaths registered to date since 2022 in the African region, the rapidly rising trend could lead to a higher number of cases recorded than that of 2021 ‒ the worst year for cholera in Africa in nearly a decade. The region is also witnessing cholera outbreaks in areas not usually affected by the disease.
At a high-level ministerial meeting on “Cholera epidemics and Climate-related public health emergencies” in Lilongwe on 9 and 10 March, the ministers agreed to “undertake urgent actions to facilitate cooperation and collaboration amongst our Member States for cholera, polio and climate-related public health emergency preparedness, readiness and response.”
The meeting was organized by the Government of Malawi with support from World Health Organization’s (WHO) Regional Office for Africa, Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) and UNICEF.
“With robust preparedness, readiness and coordinated responses at border crossings, we believe that it is possible to end cholera outbreaks in southern Africa and to achieve regional targets in eliminating the disease to guarantee a healthy future to our populations,” said Honourable Khumbize Kandodo Chiponda, Minister of Health in Malawi.
Current cholera epidemics are occurring in a context of extreme climatic events, such as severe drought in the greater Horn of Africa, and seasonal rains and tropical storms in southern Africa, which exacerbate the risk of propagation of waterborne diseases. A total of 13 countries in the WHO African region are currently faced with a cholera outbreak, with a continued risk of cross-border infection.
The persistence of cholera is a manifestation of gaps in water and sanitation infrastructures and services, poor hygiene, shortcomings in surveillance, health systems and workforce to facilitate early detection for a prompt outbreak response, as well as insufficient political commitment to secure the necessary resources to impact changes.
“This collective call for concerted efforts comes at the right time. We can defeat cholera epidemics and mitigate the impact of climate-related public health emergencies by working together in multisectoral partnerships, aided by adequate political commitment and investment,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa. “Together, we can bring current cholera outbreaks in the region to an end and save many lives.”
Five southern African countries – all of them responding to a cholera outbreak invested tremendous efforts over the last year to vaccinate more than 33 million children against wild poliovirus type 1, after Malawi confirmed its first case in 30 years in February 2022.
In a joint communique, ministers at the meeting called for the establishment of the Africa Elimination of Cholera Epidemics Coordination Task Force (AECECT), hosted at the African Union secretariat in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, under the leadership of the Member States with support from the Africa CDC, WHO, UNICEF, GTFCC and other relevant partners to support the cooperation and collaboration on Cholera elimination efforts while maintaining full coherence with the Ending Cholera a Global Roadmap to 2030. The task force will support the cooperation and collaboration on cross-border preparedness, readiness and response to address cholera epidemics. The communique also calls for exchange of information in a timely manner on matters of common interest as deemed appropriate for preparedness and response.