More than a million people are struggling to rebuild their lives in flood-affected parts of Mozambique, many of whom are in urgent need of assistance for the basics to survive. The response to the disaster caused by heavy flooding and Cyclone Idai will be simply enormous in scale. Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) emergency teams have started medical response activities, and the humanitarian emergency medical organization is scaling up with its emergency response systems fully activated.
In early March a storm cell brought heavy rains to Malawi before heading out to sea off the coast of Mozambique and intensifying into Cyclone Idai. In the late night of 14 March, Idai returned to land, wreaking havoc in the port city of Beira, home to some 500,000 people, as well as in the surrounding districts where it has destroyed the lives and livelihoods of hundreds of thousands more people. High winds and high waters have so far killed at least 447 people according to the Government and damaged or destroyed thousands of buildings - homes, schools, health centres and hospitals - across the area. Many families are left homeless and most communities are without reliable access to clean water or electricity.
As soon as the airport was re-opened, and planes could land in Beira, MSF sent a small emergency team from Maputo to check on the staff of our existing HIV project in the city as well as assess the needs for a large-scale emergency intervention in Beira and its surroundings. This first team has so far expanded to more than 60 international staff, who are working alongside existing MSF staff in Beira and rapidly hiring extra local reinforcements to help meet the needs.
“The cyclone has left a path of devastation with thousands of houses destroyed, which has left the community vulnerable and exposed to the elements,” said Gert Verdonck, MSF’s Emergency Coordinator in Beira. “The supply chain has been broken, creating food, clean water and healthcare shortages. These levels of extreme damage will likely lead to a dramatic increase of waterborne diseases, skin infections, respiratory tract infections and malaria in the coming days and weeks. Furthermore, the local health system with all its regular services, such as HIV treatment and maternal healthcare, has also been disrupted.”
Today in Beira, MSF teams are hard at work alongside the local Ministry of Health inside three health centres to care for those suffering from acute watery diarrhoea as well as repair the damage sustained during the storm. As more staff and supplies arrive in Beira, this support will be extended to at least one further health centre in the city, ensuring that patients with severe diarrhoea are provided with lifesaving oral and IV rehydration.
“The cyclone substantially damaged the city’s water supply system, resulting in many people having no access to clean drinking water. This means that they have no option but to drink from contaminated wells, some people even resorting to drinking the stagnant water by the side of the road. This of course results in an increase of patients suffering from diarrhoea. The MSF supported health centres have seen hundreds of patients with acute watery diarrhoea in the past few days,” says Verdonck.
The cyclone has left a path of devastation with thousands of houses destroyed, which has left the community vulnerable and exposed to the elements
Outside of the health centres, MSF is running mobile clinics to provide primary healthcare to the most affected communities. These teams - comprised of doctors, clinical officers, nurses, health promoters and counsellors - are visiting poorer areas of Beira as well as some of the 37 transit centres where those whose homes have been destroyed and those who were rescued from flooded areas outside of Beira are sheltering.
“Thanks to MSF’s long-term presence working alongside the Ministry of Health to treat HIV in Mozambique, we have strong existing links with the country and were able respond in a rapidly,” said Verdonck. “Given how many of our patients and their families have lost everything, our mobile clinics are not just about providing primary healthcare but also about showing up and being there for a community that is desperately in need.”
To date, the mobile clinics have primarily treated cases of diarrhoea, respiratory tract infections, skin and wound infections as well as injuries sustained by people trying to rebuild their homes. When patients are in need of more substantial medical care, MSF transports them to the hospital or to a nearby health centre.
Beyond the first batch of emergency supplies sent from Maputo, MSF has so far sent four chartered cargo flights with emergency essentials for the response from Belgium to Beira. At least three more chartered cargo flights are scheduled for this week, departing from Belgium, Dubai and France, and continued massive aerial freight supply mobilization will continue in the following weeks.
Given the results of several health assessments conducted in the last few days, during which MSF teams also assess the water and sanitation situation, the geographic scope of MSF’s response will expand beyond Beira town to several of the most-affected areas inland and to the south of Beira, in Manica and Sofala Provinces, including the hard-hit towns of Buzi and Dondo.
“Given the sheer amount of water that passed through Beira during Cyclone Idai and the volume of damage caused, it’s not surprising that there are outbreaks of water borne diseases like cholera in the city. MSF is already supporting the Ministry of Health to care for patients suspected of suffering from cholera in three health centres of Beira and has so far been treating more than 200 patients a day. In the coming days we will work alongside the Ministry of Health to scale up as much as possible and provide support to more cholera treatment units as well as work to rehabilitate a larger cholera treatment centre. We have cargo planes arriving daily with the supplies we need and are also flying in experienced medical and logistical staff members from our projects in Mozambique and around the world. We are also in discussion with the health ministry about supporting a large cholera vaccination campaign in the area.” - Gert Verdonck, MSF Emergency Coordinator in Beira.