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Cholera Fears Spread In Mozambique Following Deadly Cyclone

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Five cases of cholera have now been confirmed in the port city of Beira, Mozambique. And this is spreading in the wake of what the United Nations has called the worst catastrophe to hit southern Africa. A cyclone and massive flooding two weeks ago killed hundreds of people.

Earlier this morning, we were able to reach Caitlin Ryan. She is the emergency communications officer for the group Doctors Without Borders. They're also known by their French initials MSF. She is in the city of Beira, and I asked her what it's like there.

CAITLIN RYAN: In many ways, it does feel like life is returning to the city. There's some food in the market; people have cleaned the streets. And we're starting to treat a lot of injuries of people repairing their homes. So in many ways, life is returning to normal. But in many other ways, maybe even a hundred thousand people are sleeping without roofs, they don't have enough food, and access to clean water is severely, severely limited.

GREENE: Well, speaking of health problems - I mean, what can you tell me now about these cases of cholera?

RYAN: Yeah. So yesterday, the government confirmed that the five cases have tested positive for cholera, which is, in many ways, not unexpected after a disaster of this magnitude. The people are literally drinking whatever they can find.

So one of our staff has reported seeing people drinking stagnant water from the side of the road. You know? Other of our patients have said that they're - they have paid for one guy in the neighborhood who has the tap to get some water. So five cases have been confirmed, but we're treating hundreds more.

GREENE: If we're talking about hundreds of cases of a bacterial infection like cholera - I mean, this is just the kind of environment where it can become an epidemic very quickly. Right?

RYAN: Yeah. So that's correct. So the challenge right now is not only to treat the patients who are turning up at the health centers - and we've treated hundreds in recent days - but it's also to stop the epidemic from spreading. And that is going to be a huge effort in terms of water and sanitation and actually providing clean water for these communities to drink and places for them to go to the toilet. And we are expecting to have even more cholera treatment centers up online in the next few days.

GREENE: How long is this road to recovery going to be for this country? I mean, this sounds just catastrophic.

RYAN: Yeah, I think that's true. And I think any country would really struggle to deal with something this extreme. MSF was already in the country working with patients with HIV. And we're looking at Mozambique's emergency response for at least the next six months. But it's likely that it will take longer.

I mean, we've got to remember that people have lost their crops; people have lost their homes. And these are not wealthy people. These are people who - you know, many people live kind of hand-to-mouth, so their struggling is huge.

GREENE: Caitlin Ryan is emergency communications officer for Doctors Without Borders. Responding to the situation in Mozambique, she's in the city of Beira this morning.

Thank you very much.

RYAN: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.