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Voice of America: Cyclone Freddy Increases Health Risks in Southern African Countries

The World Health Organization warns that Cyclone Freddy, which left a trail of death and destruction across southern Africa, has increased the health risks for millions of people in Malawi, Mozambique and Madagascar.

It says widespread flooding and torrential rains have caused extensive destruction, exposing more than 1.4 million people to outbreaks of waterborne and other diseases in the three countries affected by Cyclone Freddy’s devastating punch.

The WHO reports the record-breaking storm destroyed or flooded more than 300 health facilities in Madagascar, Malawi and Mozambique, leaving many communities without adequate access to medical services.

WHO reports more than 600 people are known to have been killed and nearly 1,400 injured, with hundreds more missing. Houses, schools, roads and other infrastructure have been destroyed or damaged.

“Swathes of inundated farmland have raised the fear of malnutrition and the development of diseases and chronic health conditions,” said Matshidiso Moeti, WHO regional director for Africa, in a statement Thursday. “The cyclone’s devastation has raised public health risks, including the increased spread of cholera, malaria, vaccine-preventable diseases, even COVID-19, and malnutrition. And, of course, support for trauma and mental health is equally needed.”

Moeti said the three countries need international support “to cope and eventually recover from the disaster.”

She noted the WHO has provided almost $8 million, deployed more than 60 experts and shipped tons of laboratory, treatment and other critical medical supplies to the affected areas.

Heavy damage in Malawi

Charles Mwansambo, head of Malawi’s Ministry of Health, said nearly half of the country has been affected by the unusually long-running cyclone, which crossed over southeast Africa multiple times during a five-week period before finally dissipating about a week ago.

Mwansambo said that in Malawi more than 500 people were killed, nearly 1,300 injured and whole villages were washed away by the floods.

He said the government was in the process of assessing the full extent of needs before seeking international support.

“We knew this cyclone was coming but we did not imagine it would be of this magnitude,” he said.

Currently, 14 African countries are affected by cholera outbreaks. Extreme climate events and conflicts have exacerbated the ongoing outbreaks and increased vulnerabilities to other diseases in some regions.

Petteri Taalas, secretary-general of the World Meteorological Organization, said the unprecedented flooding triggered by Cyclone Freddy “highlights once again that our weather and precipitation is becoming more extreme and that water-related hazards are on the rise.”

“The worst affected areas have received months’ worth of rainfall in a matter of days and the socio-economic impacts are catastrophic,” he said.

The International Organization for Migration, alongside other U.N. agencies, is managing more than 500 accommodation centers for Malawians rendered homeless by the storm.

Antonio Vitorino, IOM director general said southern Africa now faces such climate-related disasters almost every year.

“The recurrence of cyclones, floods and droughts in the region and the increased frequency of such hazards in the last few years,” he said, “is evidence to the growing need of adaptive capacity and disaster risk reduction.”

Africa’s fight against TB

Turning to tuberculosis on this, the eve of World TB Day, Moeti reported that progress was being made in the fight against this ancient killer disease.

She said the African Region has achieved a 22% decline in new infections since 2015, and TB deaths in the region have dropped by 26% between 2015 and 2021.

“Seven countries – Eswatini, Kenya, Mozambique, South Sudan, Togo, Uganda and Zambia – have attained a 35% reduction in deaths since 2015. So, we have shown that it is possible to reach and even surpass the first milestone of the ‘End TB Strategy’ fixed at a 20% reduction by 2020.”

However, she said the battle is far from over. WHO reports Africa accounts for a third of TB deaths and a fifth of cases worldwide.

Additionally, Moeti said multi-drug-resistant TB was a serious problem in the African region, noting that “just over a quarter of all people living with multidrug resistance are receiving the appropriate treatment.”

Nevertheless, while tuberculosis kills more people than any other infectious disease, Moeti said new drugs, vaccines and tests “offer hope of ending TB in our lifetime.”

Voice of America

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