GENEVA (Reuters) – Health officials launched a vaccination campaign in Mozambique’s cyclone-hit port city of Beira on Wednesday in an effort to contain an outbreak of cholera that has already infected over 1,400 people, the World Health Organization (WHO) said.
The U.N. health agency has shipped some 900,000 doses of oral cholera vaccine to Mozambique, where Cyclone Idai last month flattened homes and unleashed widespread flooding.
All the vaccine doses have arrived and the aim is to immunise 900,000 people in a six-day campaign that started on Wednesday.
Some 843 people were killed by the storm and subsequent flooding in Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi. Humanitarian efforts are turning to preventing further loss of life due to disease.
As of Tuesday, Mozambique’s health ministry had reported 1,428 cases of cholera including one death since the outbreak was declared on 27 March.
“We shouldn’t focus too much on the numbers as there are still a lot of people who are not getting tested for cholera,” said WHO spokesman Christian Lindmeier. “The important thing is to get sick people into treatment as soon as possible.”
The vaccination campaign, which WHO officials said last week would initially immunise around 100,000 people, is due to extend outside of Beira in coming days.
Cholera is endemic to Mozambique, which has had regular outbreaks over the past five years. About 2,000 people were infected in the last outbreak, which ended in February 2018, according to the WHO.
The scale of the damage to Beira’s water and sanitation infrastructure, coupled with its dense population, have raised fears that another epidemic would be difficult to control.
The United Nations has appealed for $392 million to fund the humanitarian response to the disaster in southern Africa for the next three months. Just $46 million in funding has been received so far.
(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Additional reporting by Michelle Nichols at the United Nations; Writing by Joe Bavier; Editing by David Holmes)