Malawi is experiencing its deadliest cholera outbreak ever, and a sharp increase in cases over the past month signals that the situation will worsen without strong interventions, the World Health Organization (WHO) said today in an update.
Though cholera is endemic in Malawi, the current outbreak began in March 2022 and has extended through the dry season. So far, nearly 37,000 cases have been reported, with about 1,200 deaths, for a case-fatality rate (CFR) above 3%. The WHO said the outbreak has been marked by a consistently high CFR and large geographic spread. Cases have been reported from all 29 of the country's districts.
High CFRs have been recorded from three districts where sick people presented too late to healthcare facilities.
Stretching response capabilities
Malawi's government declared a public health emergency on Dec 5, but the pace and scope of the outbreak is stretching its ability to respond. The WHO said Malawi's outbreak is one of several cholera outbreaks that have put pressure on the supply of vaccines and treatments.
Adolescents, teens, and young adults are among the hardest-hit groups, with males making up 57% of cases. However, most deaths have occurred in people ages 60 and older.
So far, two oral cholera vaccination campaigns have been conducted across 21 districts.
The WHO said Malawi's rainy season is under way and typically runs from November through May, and cases are likely to increase further, along with the risk of international spread.
The WHO put the risk to both Malawi and the region as high. Cases have already been confirmed in bordering Mozambique. In January, the WHO said the global risk from cholera is very high due to ongoing multiple outbreaks across multiple regions.