Cyclone Idai briefing: Dr Djamila Cabral, WHO Representative in Mozambique (27.03.2019)

Last Friday I visited Beira, one of the worst-affected areas that was hit by Tropical Cyclone Idai.

The devastation is enormous

More than 100 000 people have lost their homes and all of their possessions. Families, pregnant women, babies are living in temporary camps in horrific conditions, without secure food supplies, or safe drinking water and sanitation.

Around 55 health centres have been severely damaged. I visited the central hospital in Beira where I saw the direct impact of the cyclone. The flooding had damaged essential equipment and the facility is unable to receive patients during this crucial time. As an example, surgical theatre and nursery completely damaged.

Official death toll is more than 446 but we expect the real numbers to be much higher. 1.8 million people in Mozambique need urgent humanitarian assistance.

For WHO, health is our number one priority now

We must not let these people suffer a second disaster through a serious disease outbreak or inability to access essential health services. They have suffered enough.

WHO’s Director General, Dr Tedros has called for a “no regrets” approach – this means that we are doing whatever it takes to address the crisis, investing all the available resources now to save lives and protect health.

We are building up a surge team of over 40 staff from across the Organization, with expertise in logistics, epidemiology, and outbreak prevention and response.

We have a number of key priorities right now. First to set up an early warning disease detection system so that we can respond rapidly as soon as an outbreak is suspected. Then we need to ensure that, as resources come in, they are immediately put to work.

There is increased risk of diseases

We know that after an event like this, there is extremely high risk of diarrhoeal diseases like cholera. WHO is positioning supplies to prepare to treat diarrhoeal diseases – lifesaving intravenous fluids, diagnostic tests, 900 000 doses of oral cholera vaccines are on their way from the global emergency stockpile. We are providing our expertise to set up 3 cholera treatment centres, including an 80-bed treatment centre in Beira.

We are also preparing for a spike in malaria in the coming weeks by procuring 900 000 insecticide-treated bednets to protect all affected families, and ensure rapid diagnostic tests and antimalarials are positioned to high-risk areas.

And we are working at top speed to ensure that the people of Mozambique can access essential health services during this crisis to ensure that:

  • people with HIV, TB or diabetes continue to receive their medications
  • that thousands of pregnant women are able to receive care for safe childbirth
  • that children receive treatment for common infections and are screened (and treated if needed) for acute malnutrition
  • that people in need receive psycho-social support and protection from gender-based violence.

The coming weeks are crucial for WHO in Mozambique. The health sector needs at least $38 million over the next 3 months for the health response to this humanitarian crisis.

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