One of the biggest netball stars in Scotland has spoken of her fears for her compatriots in Malawi after the African country was hit by a powerful cyclone which is worsening an already grave cholera epidemic.
Towera Vinkhumbo, who plays for the Strathclyde Sirens and is part of Malawi’s team due at this year’s World Cup, said she was trying to find out news about loved ones.
Tens of thousands have already suffered cholera with more than 1,500 losing the lives. The cyclone – named Tropical Storm Freddy – is threatening to make the situation even worse after hundreds were killed and the country was left overwhelmed.
Towera, 32, said: “My country was already suffering from one of its worst cholera outbreaks, with many already dead. Now we have got this cyclone claiming dozens of lives.
“Power is down across much of the country so it is really difficult to get some news, I am just praying that the number of deaths does not get any higher.”
The ambassador for the Edinburgh-based EMMS International charity which was already working in Malawi to help people gain access to good quality and dignified healthcare added: “From what I can gather, the rain is relentless and much of the land is flooded with rivers bursting their banks and submerging roads – it must be awful at the moment.
On Sunday 12 March, Storm Freddy crossed into Malawi carrying on its trail of devastation. The death toll is still rising but hundreds have been killed.
In one township alone, 39 bodies were recovered after 40 houses were washed away in Chilobwe on the outskirts of the city of Blantyre. The storm has also affected much of the southern region with Nsanje, Chikwawa, Thyolo, Blantyre, Mwanza, Mulanje, Phalombe and Zomba districts being worst-hit.
The cyclone reduced in strength as it came inland, but its slow pace has meant the high winds and heavy rains continue to take their toll and hamper relief efforts. Several roads have been made impassable, the national power supply has been cut and schools have been closed in the region.
At the same time, Malawi is gripped by its worst ever cholera outbreak with more than 53,000 cases and at least 1,634 deaths reported. The storm and resulting floods will severely hamper efforts to control the deadly water-borne disease. The threat of infection is high since people are being moved to cramped emergency camps, toilets and hygiene facilities have been destroyed and floods have contaminated water supplies.
EMMS International has been working with its long-term partner in South Malawi, Mulanje Mission Hospital, to improve water and sanitation in rural health centres in the area. Having initially started these upgrades to keep patients and staff safe from COVID-19, EMMS International stepped up its efforts in order to keep people safe from cholera.
Towera said there was already an urgent need for help in Malawi, and that the cyclone had only made things much worse: “Giving donations to EMMS would save many lives of people in some areas of Malawi mostly in the rural communities where many people are dying due to lack of heathcare and appropriate medical equipment in the hospitals.
“Poverty is making a lot of families face deaths due to lack of money to purchase medicines. EMMS ensures that there is a possibility to get medical treatments from professional medical personnel in the hospitals.”
EMMS International’s CEO, Cathy Ratcliff, said: “Health centres need clean running water and toilets for infection control and human dignity. This need became acute during the worst of COVID-19, and so we started repairs of 20 rural health centres’ water and sanitation in Southern Malawi. We speeded up this work when cholera struck Malawi. Now, with this terrible storm and floods, we desperately need to complete these repairs. Cholera is a deadly water-borne disease, which flourishes in substandard water and sanitation. It is vital that we complete these repairs at 20 health centres now, to keep cholera at bay.”
To find out more about the work of EMMS International go to www.emms.org