Racing to Prevent a Malaria Outbreak Among Malawi Flood Victims

Story by Rejoice Phiri

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Alinafe flood camp, Chikwawa district, Malawi. Photo credit: Erik Schouten/MSH

In March, heavy rains following Tropical Cyclone Idai devastated Malawi. The storm injured 677 people; 59 died. According to the Malawi government, some 87,000 people were displaced from their homes. Some families spent nights in school-based emergency shelters, while classrooms teemed with students during the day. Some lived in tents, sometimes shared among four to five people. Others had to fend for themselves, building makeshift shelters from scavenged materials. The storm also ravaged the crops and livestock most families rely on for food and income.

“I was due to deliver my baby when my village flooded. Given my condition, I was fortunate to escape with my children. Barely four hours later, I delivered a healthy baby girl. Unfortunately, I obviously was not able to help my husband, and we lost everything we owned, including cattle and other valuable household items.” — survivor Mary Amos

But the cyclone left more than material damage in its wake; it also left large swamps, the perfect breeding grounds for Malaria-carrying mosquitoes.

Staff from USAID’s Organized Network of Services for Everyone’s (ONSE) Health Activity, and the President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI) visited Zomba and Chikwawa, two districts highly affected by Cyclone Idai, to assess the flood response.

“We were concerned, knowing…there is a high probability of breeding of mosquitoes,” said Xiomara Brown, PMI Resident Advisor. Brown says she’s encouraged to see enthusiastic support for victims from partners and donors. What is needed now, she emphasized, is proper coordination during the recovery phase.

As the teams went through the camps, they noted the number of people lining up for medical treatment. Following the storm, ONSE has been working alongside affected districts to support uninterrupted access to essential health services. Fuel and funding allow district health management teams to operate mobile integrated health outreach clinics once or twice a week in the flood camps.

During these clinic visits, malaria testing using rapid diagnostic tests (RDTs) is available, and all positive cases are treated with the recommended antimalarial treatment. The team also helped distribute insecticide-treated mosquito nets (ITNs), which reduce the incidence of uncomplicated malaria episodes by 50 percent and all-cause mortality in children under five by about 20 percent.

Dr Michael Kayange, Program Manager for the National Malaria Control Program, commended the ongoing efforts to prevent a malaria outbreak in Zomba:

“The number of people reported to have contracted malaria is lower now than it was some weeks ago due to the timely distribution of ITN’s. I would like to commend ONSE for coordinating the weekly mobile clinics because victims now have an opportunity to access medical assistance. Even from today’s records, we see that a considerable number of people have been treated after being diagnosed with malaria.”

Authorities say they will begin closing the evacuation camps in May.

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Management Sciences for Health helps leaders, health managers & communities build stronger health systems for greater health impact. More at www.msh.org

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