MSF responds to Cyclone Idai

An MSF mobile team walks to access a village cut off by damage caused by Cylone Idai in Chimanimani, Zimbabwe.

Zimbabwe 2019 © MSF

Updated March 26, 2019—Teams with the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) are responding to the damage caused by Cyclone Idai and devastating floods in Mozambique, Zimbabwe, and Malawi. In addition to assessing the damage, teams are working to reach people in need and get medical supplies and water and sanitation support to the most affected areas. Officials have said they expect the death toll to be in the thousands.

MSF is responding to the cyclone in the following countries:

Mozambique: Cyclone Idai hit the port city of Beira on March 14 and devastated the coastline of Sofala, Zambézia, and Inhambane provinces. Initial reports indicated that 90 percent of the area around Beira was damaged or destroyed. Main roads leading into Beira were cut off, buildings were submerged and severely damaged, and businesses were shut down. There was no power in Beira and surrounding areas, and nearly all communication lines were destroyed. This has made assessment of the human toll and scale of disaster extremely difficult. At least 84 deaths and at least 1,500 injuries have been reported between Beira, Dondo, and Chimoio cities.


Cyclone Idai: On the ground in Mozambique

Mozambique - Beira

MSF staff are working alongside the local Ministry of Health inside three health centers in Beira to care for those suffering from acute watery diarrhea, as well as repair damage sustained during the storm. As more staff and supplies arrive in Beira, this support will be extended to at least one other health center in the city. Outside the health centers, mobile clinic teams are visiting affected communities and transit centers where people who lost their homes have taken shelter. In addition to emergency supplies sent from Maputo, MSF has also chartered four cargo flights carrying essential supplies from Belgium to Beira. More supply shipments are planned.

Following the Mozambican government’s official declaration of cholera almost two weeks after Cyclone Idai, MSF is scaling up activities to treat people suffering from the disease and help curb its spread. The cyclone and subsequent flooding substantially damaged the water supply system in Beira—the hardest-hit city in Mozambique—making it difficult for people to access clean drinking water, which is key in preventing the spread of waterborne diseases like cholera. Read more from Mozambique.

Zimbabwe: Cyclone Idai hit Chimanimani, a small district of approximately 30,000 people in Manicaland province, late on March 15 after passing through Mozambique. As of March 22, 154 deaths, 162 injuries, and the displacement of nearly 5,000 people have been reported. Several roads leading into Chimanimani have been cut off, hampering the emergency response.

However, an MSF team has gained access to Chimanimani and is now working with Ministry of Health staff at the district hospital. Two outreach teams are also active in the district, attempting to reach as many of Chimanimani's 20 health clinics and settlements as possible to assess health needs and distribute essential medicines, basic supplies, and aqua tablets to purify water for drinking. We also continue to provide consultations and medical supplies in a stabilization center set up on the outskirts of the district. Additionally, an MSF team from Chipinge has reached Copper, a valley to the south, to conduct an assessment of the needs.

So far, health needs in Chimanimani include trauma care, refills of antiretroviral drugs for HIV patients, and medications for chronic diseases. However, the longer-term consequences of the destruction caused by the cyclone must be addressed as well. Disruption of electricity has affected routine vaccination services; stocks of medical supplies and drugs are dwindling; long-term treatments for HIV, tuberculosis, and chronic diseases have been interrupted; and there is a general lack of sanitation supplies like detergent and chlorine. Read more from Zimbabwe.

Response to flooding in Southern Africa - Malawi

Malawi: Extremely heavy rains in lower Shire River districts of Chikwawa and Nsanje, compounded by further rains from last week’s Cyclone Idai, have caused severe flooding. Rivers have broken their banks, affecting some 16,000 households in Nsanje, according to the national disaster report. Huge numbers of houses collapsed, and thousands of people remain in displacement camps and makeshift shelter sites at schools and churches. Official figures confirm 56 deaths, 577 injured, and three missing.

MSF is responding in collaboration with Malawian authorities and the Disaster Management Department, in addition to local and international organizations. An 18-person MSF team is supporting the Ministry of Health to provide health and sanitation services and non-food items to an estimated 18,000 people in Makhanga, on the eastern bank of the Shire River. So far we have not identified any acute medical needs, but we are concerned about the many people in need of medications for treatment of chronic conditions, including HIV and tuberculosis. In Makhanga health center, where Ministry of Health staff have not yet returned, MSF offers primary health care, HIV services, and basic disease surveillance, providing approximately 150 consultations daily.

Outreach teams have also visited communities in the region to repair boreholes and test water quality to ensure access to safe drinking water. We're also building basic latrines and shower shelters, distributing non-food items and hygiene kits, and educating communities on hygiene and safe water practices. These teams have now reached more than 2,000 households in Makhanga.

Due to concerns about the potential for the spread of cholera, MSF is building a four-bed cholera treatment unit in order to be prepared in the event of an outbreak. Read more from Malawi.