Zambia: MSF Responds to Worst Cholera Outbreak in Years

Valérie Batselaere/MSF
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MSF is supporting the Zambian Ministry of Health to respond to the worst cholera outbreak in the country in many years.

In Lusaka, the capital city of Zambia, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is responding to the worst cholera outbreaks to hit the country in many years. Over the last five weeks the number of cholera cases has risen dramatically to more than 4,500, while more than 120 people have lost their lives due to the disease. Despite hopes that the outbreak reached its peak last week and that the number of cholera cases will start decreasing, heavy rains continue to cause severe floods in the city, potentially worsening the outlook for the coming weeks.

MSF teams are working around the clock to treat people affected by cholera and to contain the spread of the outbreak. MSF has set up three cholera treatment centers (CTC) in Matero, Chawama and Kanyama, with a capacity of 567 beds, and is also supporting 17 cholera treatment units (CTU). Since March 4, MSF teams in collaboration with the Ministry of Health have treated 4,020 patients in the three CTCs. ?Last week we suffered the peak of the outbreak with a total of 1,054 cases admitted,? said Luke Arend, MSF?s Head of Mission in Zambia. ?This number of cholera cases is by far the highest recorded in the last decade. Due to the severity of this outbreak, we are stepping up our intervention, in close collaboration with the Ministry of Health of Zambia.?

In addition to providing direct treatment to cholera patients, MSF is also working intensively for the prevention of the spread of the outbreak in the worst hit areas of the city. MSF water and sanitation staff is providing more than 500,000 liters of chlorinated water per day in the affected neighbourhoods of Lusaka, while a team of nearly 50 contact tracers is working on a daily basis for disinfecting the homes of cholera patients, providing people chlorine for treating their water and teaching them safe practices to avoid transmission. MSF is also supporting another team of drainage diggers to remove flood waters in the worst affected areas. More than 100 volunteers are conducting outreach activities in the communities, aided by a drama troupe, aiming to show and tell people how to prevent the spread of the disease. MSF has also produced a television announcement about the prevention of cholera that is aired on the national television channel.

Cholera is endemic in Zambia. Over the previous years, Lusaka has seen repeated outbreaks during the rainy season. ?The vast majority of the population in Lusaka is living in such conditions that make them extremely vulnerable to cholera due to the lack of access to safe water, drainage and good sanitation facilities,? says Arend. ?What is clear is that much more has to be done by the authorities in the short-term to improve cholera response preparedness and to avert the needless loss of so many lives each year. There is also a need for political commitment to long-term infrastructural investment in drainage, sanitation and water provision in these unplanned peri-urban areas of Lusaka to rid the city of this deadly cholera. For far too long there has been neglect in provision of these basic services.?


MSF has been working in Zambia since 1999. In this cholera emergency intervention, 17 international staff are working alongside more than 500 Zambian colleagues in Lusaka.