Protecting villages from cholera outbreaks

Zione Giziyele and her baby Chimwemwe
© UNICEF Malawi/2018/Amos Gumulira

By Shorai Nyambalo-Ng’ambi

The month of August,2018, gave Zione Giziyele two reasons to celebrate: she gave birth to her second baby, a daughter named Chimwemwe. At the same time, her village received its first ever borehole.

Giziyele, 22, from Mtenje village in Salima district, Malawi, was born, grew up and married in the village. She and her husband are now subsistence farmers.

Having been born and bred in the area, Giziyele, just like many other of her fellow villagers, had gotten used to drinking water from a nearby river.

Before the borehole was dug by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Mtenje villagers, with a total of 58 households, regularly collected water from the Lipimbi river, which had become contaminated from sewerage runoff. As a consequence, the village was ravaged by cholera during the last rainy season. At the time diarrhoea was also commonly found among children.

Giziyele says her four-year-old first-born child contracted diarrhoea when he was six months old. “I’d exclusively breastfed my boy until then and only introduced him to water and other foods when he was the correct age.” She says his diarrhoea was treated but returned time and again.

Zione demonstrating where she used to withdraw water before the new borehole was installed 
© UNICEF Malawi/2018/Amos Gumulira

Waki Chungwa, a local district water development officer at the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development, said the root cause of the cholera outbreak in Salima was found to have been unprotected water sources.

“The villagers were drawing water from unprotected sources such as contaminated rivers because they didn’t like drinking from existing boreholes which had high levels of salts,” says Chungwa. “When we raised the alarm agencies such as UNICEF responded with various preventive measures.”

UNICEF dug the new borehole during widespread outbreaks of cholera across Malawi in 2017 and 2018. Cases were reported in 13 districts including Salima. In Salima, 89 cases were later recorded, including four deaths.

Nationally, more than 900 people were affected with 30 succumbing to the disease. Cholera is contracted by the consumption of water which has been contaminated by poor hygiene and sanitation practices.

Zione pumps water into her bucket at a borehole provided by UNICEF
© UNICEF Malawi/2018/Amos Gumulira

In Malawi, only 15 percent of households access their drinking water within their premises, according to the Demographic Household Survey of 2015. About half of rural households spend 30 minutes each day fetching water, which mostly comes from boreholes or tube wells.

With funding from the Department for International Development (DFID), UNICEF provided financial and technical support to the Government of Malawi, and other water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) stakeholders, to contain the cholera outbreak.

Patrick Okuni, acting chief of UNICEF Malawi’s WASH sector said his agency helped install water and sanitation facilities to control infections and provide clean water in affected communities.

“But our long-term priority, working with government, is to build sufficient resilience into communities and institutions so that the cycle of cholera outbreaks can be broken,” said Okuni.

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