Beira, Mozambique – The number of cholera cases in cyclone-hit Mozambique has risen sharply in communities affected by flooding.
At least 1,428 people have been infected as the Mozambican government and aid agencies try to contain the outbreak, health officials told journalists in the coastal city of Beira on Tuesday.
The cholera outbreak has grown rapidly since 249 cases were reported last week. At least 376 new cases were discovered on Tuesday, most of them in Beira city, as the infection rate continues to increase daily.
“We are extremely concerned, hence we are having constant meetings with government institutions to prevent cases of cholera,” Reto Eberhard of the Red Cross told Al Jazeera.
Two deaths have been reported in the cyclone-hit region, Ministry of Health records show.
Cyclone Idai crashed into Mozambique on March 14, causing catastrophic flooding which has killed more than 500 people in the country. At least 259 people have been killed in Zimbabwe and 56 in Malawi. Officials in Mozambique have warned the toll is likely to increase as more bodies are expected to be found when the flood waters recede.
The United Nations has said some 1.8 million people are in need of urgent humanitarian assistance.
Officials at the health ministry say they have stepped up hygiene awareness and education campaigns in areas impacted by the cyclone.
“We have been educating people about hygiene, hand wash and other preventive measures in communities,” National Director of Medical Assistance Usseine Isse told Al Jazeera.
“We have been encouraging people to go to the hospitals when they experience symptoms of cholera. It is a dangerous disease and not something to delay treatment,” Isse said.
Many health centres in the cyclone-affected communities have been swept away by flood waters, while the health centres run by relief agencies are barely enough to support thousands of displaced people.
Health ministry officials and relief agencies are scheduled to commence a mass vaccination campaign on Wednesday to limit the spread of cholera.
The vaccination exercise is targeted at some 900,000 people affected by the cyclone.
The World Health Organization (WHO) on Tuesday took delivery of oral vaccines.
“Cholera treatment centres are being created to identify and treat all potential cases,” UNICEF emergency team leader Jean Manhes told Al Jazeera.”
“Cholera is a serious issue that is being closely monitored,” Manhes said.
Many badly affected areas in Mozambique and neighbouring Zimbabwe are still inaccessible by road, complicating relief efforts and further heightening the threat of infection.
Tens of thousands of victims of the storm are at risk of infection due to water contamination, health experts warn.
Relief agencies intend to step up their emergency response when the flood waters recede and some roads are re-opened.
Cholera is endemic to Mozambique, which has had regular outbreaks over the past five years.
About 2,000 people were infected in the most recent outbreak, which ended in February 2018, according to the WHO.