The death toll from cholera passes 1,000 in Malawi as the outbreak spreads

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BLANTYRE (Reuters) – The death toll from a cholera outbreak in Malawi has passed 1,000, while cases have risen to 30,621, the highest ever recorded in the country, Health Minister Khumbize Chiponda said on Wednesday.

Most of the deaths occurred in the two main towns of Lilongwe and Blantyre, where children recently returned to classes after schools postponed opening to try to contain the spread.

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Chiponda called on people to be extra careful with the bodies of cholera victims before funerals.

“People who die of cholera can be washed by relatives who then prepare funeral feasts … Cholera outbreaks usually follow these feasts,” she said.

The minister called on people to use good decontamination procedures with chlorine and plastic body bags.

Cholera regularly hits the South African country during downpours from November to March, but there was an unusually high wave of infections during and after the holiday season. The usual annual death toll is around 100.

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“The cumulative confirmed cases and deaths since the start of the outbreak are 30,621 and 1,002, respectively, with a mortality rate of 3.27%,” said Chiponda.

Health officials said last week that a number of clinics in the country, which received 2.7 million doses of the cholera vaccine under a WHO program, were running low on supplies.

The health ministry declined to comment on the vaccine supply situation when reached by Reuters.

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(Reporting by Frank Phiri; editing by Anait Miridzhanian and Andrew Heavens)

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