By Ken Limwame, Communications for Development Specialist, UNICEF, Malawi.
“We are no longer eating left over rice in this house”, Charity Nkhoma said with sadness in her voice.
Sitting on the mud-floor on the veranda of her grass-thatched house, her words are a stark contrast to the playful and relaxed mood in her yard, where several young children are playing or watching cars cruising on the Karonga — Mzuzu road.
“For now, we are eating nsima and plantain because we do not leave them overnight to eat again in the morning”, continues Charity, a middle-aged widow, mother, grandmother and head of her household.
Memories of the events of the previous week are still fresh in her mind. She recalls the events of the morning of 26 December when three of her children, all under the age 12, started vomiting and passing stools that were whitish in colour. She recognised these as signs of cholera, which sent her into panic mode.
“What I saw matched the description of signs and symptoms of cholera”, she says.
The sight of her sick children overwhelmed Charity. Four weeks earlier, several people from Ngara, where she lives, came down with cholera and one of them died. Unsure what to do, she remembered what her local health volunteer had said, to quickly rush to the nearest health facility on these signs.
“I quickly hired a taxi and took the children to Nyungwe health centre, where they were admitted at the cholera treatment centre for a day,” she says. “When we returned home, I found my older son was also sick. He also had cholera and went to the health centre. Fortunately for him, he was released the same day.”
Charity looks at her children and smiles. “I am very happy to see them play again”, she says.
Charity believes that contaminated food was the source of cholera: “My children ate left-over rice from Christmas day. It was cold and stale. I think that is what made them sick,” she says.
Charity’s house is close to Ngara trading centre, which has a vibrant fish market. The market attracts a lot of traders from all over the country and was severely affected by cholera. Karonga’s district health officer says that other areas were affected by cholera in Karonga but Ngara was the hardest hit.
“To prevent the further spread of cholera in the country, UNICEF has collaborated with the Government to establishment 25 cholera treatment centres in Dowa, Lilongwe, Kasungu, Karonga and NkhataBay,” says Mesfin Senbete, UNICEF Health Specialist. “UNICEF is also ensuring that the cholera treatment centres are up to the World Health Organisation standards.”
“In addition, UNICEF is working with the affected district health offices, Story Workshop, Malawi Red Cross and World Vision International to sensitise communities about prevention and treatment,” says Elnur Aliyev, UNICEF Communication for Development Manager. “UNICEF is also supporting cholera prevention messages on national and community radios.”
In the meantime, Charity is taking all the necessary precautions to avoid any more cholera incidences from occurring in her family.