Powerful Cyclone Hits During Covid-19 Surge in Mozambique

Cyclone Eloise is the latest storm to hit Mozambique, which is experiencing a Covid-19 surge. Direct Relief has responded with a $50,000 grant to support health center repairs and rebuilding efforts in the region. The support comes on top of $5.2 million in medical aid shipped to Mozambique since Cyclone Idai made landfall.

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Ponta Gea Hospital in Beira, a main health center in the regional capital city, after Cyclone Eloise. (Photo courtesy of HAI)
Ponta Gea Hospital in Beira, a main health center in the regional capital city, after Cyclone Eloise. (Photo courtesy of HAI)

The central Mozambique city of Beira and its surrounding region absorbed its third cyclone in less than two years when Eloise made landfall on January 23 with wind speeds just under 100 miles per hour. The storm killed at least 21 people across southern Africa and Madagascar, including 11 people in Mozambique, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. At least 8,000 people have been displaced, according to the country’s National Institute for Disaster Risk Management and Reduction.

Mozambique and its neighboring countries are also in the midst of a Covid-19 surge. WHO reported yesterday that cases and deaths across Sub-Saharan Africa appear to have doubled in the past week, with countries in southern Africa, including Botswana, Zambia, Malawi, and Mozambique experiencing the most widespread outbreaks.

Beira, the capital city of Sofala province, had been recovering from March 2019’s Cyclone Idai, last December’s Cyclone Chalane, and regional flooding earlier this month when Eloise hit. Idai was one of the region’s worst storms on record and killed over 1,000 people. Another powerful powerful cyclone, Kenneth, hit six weeks later farther north in the country.

Dr. Isaías Ramiro, Mozambique country director for Health Alliance International, or HAI, said the most pressing issue is finding shelter for those who have been displaced.

“The big problem now is that many people lost their houses and need help,” said Ramiro. HAI, a Seattle-based nonprofit working to increase health care access in Mozambique, Côte d’Ivoire, Timor-Leste, and Washington State, has been tasked by the Mozambique government to assess the full extent of the damage and evaluate the most pressing repair needs.

Health care workers clean up damage wrought by Cyclone Eloise in Beira (Photo courtesy of HAI)
Nhaconjo Health Center workers clean up damage wrought by Cyclone Eloise in Beira (Photo courtesy of HAI)

Ramiro said that evacuation-related policies enacted after Idai, which were also successfully deployed before Chalane, helped save countless lives during this latest storm. However, critical infrastructure was severely damaged. The UN reported that 76 health centers and 400 classrooms were damaged or destroyed.

“What’s frustrating is that health facilities rehabilitated after Idai are damaged right now,” Ramiro said.

Cyclone Idai Destroyed Their Hospital. These Two Doctors Never Stopped Treating Patients.

According to figures collected by Johns Hopkins University, at least 356 people have been killed by Covid-19 and at least 37,000 people have tested positive in Mozambique, though Ramiro said that the figures significantly undercount the actual totals. Private hospitals in the capital city of Maputo have been full since the surge began during the second week of January and public hospitals are severely stressed as well. 1,500 health care workers are currently hospitalized, according to HAI, and access to PPE for health care workers remains limited. While the government can increase the bed count, the country faces an acute shortage of oxygen and staff. “I won’t even talk about ventilators,” Ramiro said.

Damage to the roof of Macurungo health center in Beira after Cyclone Eloise. (Photo courtesy of HAI)
Damage to the roof of Macurungo health center in Beira after Cyclone Eloise. (Photo courtesy of HAI)

“We managed to avoid to the kinds of severe cases we are seeing now,” he said.

Other challenges during the pandemic have included limited testing capacity, a limited ability to enact a lockdown, and budgetary shortfalls.

“A lockdown would have catastrophic consequence for a county with very limited resources. The government could not offer some countermeasures of the lockdown. Most of the population live day-to-day or run small businesses just to ensure that they have some money to eat the next day,” he said.

‘The government has a very limited or even no budget to respond for such a continuous tragedy, with Idai, and now Eloise in the same region… the future will depend on what kind of support the government will have,” he said.

In addition to the pandemic, the country is also trying to avert cholera and other waterborne disease outbreaks, as occurred following Cyclones Idai and Kenneth in 2019. Those outbreaks were contained with, “social mobilization campaigns for prevention, establishment of treatment centers and units, coordination to improve of water, sanitation and hygiene, and surveillance,” according to a 2019 study in The International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.

“With flood waters present in multiple locations, the risk of water-borne diseases, including cholera, is high,” OCHA warned in a statement that was first reported by AFP.

Direct Relief worked with a team led by Dr. Ayesha Mahmud of UC Berkeley and Rebecca Kahn of Harvard’s TH Chan School of Public Health to create a predictive mapping application that models the risk of a cholera outbreak. The app was shared with Mozambique’s Beira Operations Research Center  and follows a similar product Mahmud and Kahn created with Direct Relief, Nethope, Facebook’s Data for Good team, and Northwestern University’s School of Medicine in 2019 to predict cholera outbreak pathways. That modeling was shared with WHO in Pemba and Mozambique’s Ministry of Health.

The goal of the apps is to give policy makers information that can help inform an optimized deployment of resources.

Direct Relief has also responded to Cyclone Eloise via a $50,000 grant that was requested by HAI to lead health center repairs and rebuilding efforts in the region. Support for the latest storm comes on top of $5.2 million in medical aid shipped to Mozambique since Cyclone Idai made landfall.

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