The number of confirmed cases of cholera in the cyclone-hit Mozambican port city of Beira increased from five to 138 on March 29th, as widespread flooding and unsafe sanitation has led to an outbreak of the bacteria-borne disease.
The outbreak comes after Cyclone Idai struck southeast Africa on March 14th and caused catastrophic flooding and more than 700 deaths across three countries.
Relief efforts have been hampered because many badly affected areas in Mozambique and Zimbabwe are still inaccessible by road. Those areas are at the greatest risk of infection.
"Stranded communities are relying on heavily polluted water. This, combined with widespread flooding and poor sanitation, creates fertile grounds for disease outbreaks, including cholera," the International Committee of the Red Cross said in a statement.
There have been no confirmed cholera deaths in medical centres in Mozambique yet but at least two people have died outside hospitals with symptoms including dehydration and diarrhoea, the country's environment minister, Celso Correia, said, according to Reuters.
"We expected this, we were prepared for this, we've doctors in place," Correia told reporters.
The government said for the first time that there had been confirmed cholera cases on March 27th.
Mozambique's National Disaster Management Institute said the local death toll from the tropical storm had increased from 468 to 493 people. That brings the total death toll across Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi to 738 people, with many more still missing.
Speaking in Geneva, the World Health Organization's Tarik Jasarevic said 900,000 doses of oral cholera vaccine should be delivered to the region on April 1st.
Spread by bacteria in contaminated food and water, cholera causes diarrhoea, dehydration, and sometimes death when untreated. African countries account for almost half the world’s cases of cholera each year. In Mozambique, the disease is endemic with regular outbreaks over the past five years. The most recent episode in Mozambique ended in February 2018 and saw about 2,000 people infected, according to the WHO.
Another epidemic now could be much more difficult to contain given the scale of the damage to Beira's water and sanitation infrastructure, coupled with the country’s dense population.