Malawi and neighbouring countries are currently dealing with the results of the devastating Cyclone Freddy, which destroyed homes, businesses, and fields with massive flooding and landslides—and caused the death of more than 600 people in Malawi alone. But before this natural disaster, Malawi was dealing with another emergency: a cholera outbreak. The outbreak began in March 2022 and has affected all 29 districts of the country. More than 40,000 people have been infected and more than 1,350 people have lost their lives, as of February 2023.
We hosted a one-week online discussion with our radio partners February 13-17 to discuss the cholera outbreak and to ensure radio partners have the information they need to plan programming on the topic. Mr. Thomas Mavuto, acting deputy director of Preventative Health Services at the Ministry of Health, was invited to serve as the expert guest for the discussion. He has been a long-time member of the WhatsApp group, providing excellent information on COVID-19 throughout the pandemic. The discussion was facilitated by Patrick Mphaka, the networking officer for Malawi, and reached the 200 members of the group for Farm Radio broadcasting partners in Malawi.
Participants discussed many issues by responding to questions that were posed daily. Some of the important questions included:
- How are radio stations addressing the resistance of some communities to implement cholera control measures?
- How do radio stations address the need for stronger stakeholder cooperation in the fight against cholera?
Since the outbreak, several stakeholders have informed community members of what they must do to avoid contracting cholera. Water boards opened water kiosks that might have closed because of non-payment of water bills. Local governments enacted by-laws prohibiting the street sale of locally-prepared foods. There has been distribution of chlorine for water treatment to communities, and other measures.
Some measures have been welcomed, while others have not. For instance, as with COVID-19 vaccines, some community members doubt the validity of the cholera vaccines since, as some put it, they seem to have come from nowhere. The Ministry of Health encourages all community members to go to the hospital immediately if they see any cholera symptoms in an individual. Yet, some religions prohibit their members from visiting the hospital when sick. We discussed the angles radio stations could take in such situations to motivate more people to follow cholera control measures.
In addition to highlighting the need for stakeholders to work together in the fight against the COVID pandemic, participants also discussed how they would drive home the message that community members themselves need to lead in the fight against cholera, and that the role of the rest of other stakeholders is to support them.
By the end of the discussion, participants learned that it is important to increase their health programming to reflect the need to end cholera, and that community members are key to the fight. Among other strategies, radio stations should give daily statistics of the infected, the dead, the recovered, and others to help listeners make their conclusions based on reality. Broadcasters must work with all stakeholders addressing cholera, to ensure their programming addresses the issue from all angles.
While the devastation of Cyclone Freddy and the long recovery is occupying much of the discussion in Malawi now, programming on cholera is more important than ever. The East and Southern Africa Risk Communication and Community Engagement group organized a Media Dialog on March 16 to address cholera and the impact of Cyclone Freddy. Find the recording here: Cholera in Africa: New Outbreaks and the Impact of Tropical Cyclone Freddy -ESAR RCCE Media Dialogue