Malawi Grapples with Scabies Epidemic Tied to Climate Crisis, Warn Health Experts

Malawi is grappling with a resurgence of the highly contagious skin disease, scabies, which experts are linking to the climate crisis. 

The outbreak follows a devastating cholera epidemic that claimed over 1,800 lives and affected nearly 59,000 people in August. 

In the past week, 4,152 scabies cases were reported, with the disease spreading to the northern city of Mzuzu and the southern Nsanje district.

Scabies are caused by tiny mites that burrow into the skin, causing severe irritation and discomfort. 

It is transmitted through skin-to-skin contact. George Mbotwa, spokesperson for Nsanje District Hospital, expressed the hospital’s struggle to manage the influx of cases. 

With limited medication, they are reliant on partnerships with organizations to provide treatment, and a significant portion of the affected individuals are school-age children.

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Climate Crisis Fuels Disease Vulnerability in Malawi

In Mzuzu, the Mzimba North District Health Office has recorded 152 cases and initiated an awareness campaign to curb the disease’s spread.

Health advocates attribute the outbreak to the climate crisis as Malawi grapples with a current heatwave, high humidity, and water shortages. These conditions increase the population’s vulnerability to disease outbreaks.

Maziko Matemba, a public health expert, emphasized the need for Malawi to address the climate crisis’s impact on health. 

He suggested that the scabies outbreak in Mzuzu and Nsanje districts might be linked to climate change.

A significant contributing factor to the crisis is the lack of access to clean water in Malawi. WaterAid Malawi reports that one in three people, or approximately 5.6 million, in the country, lack access to clean water. Poor sanitation contributes to the deaths of around 3,100 children under the age of five every year due to diarrheal diseases.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s sixth assessment report has warned that climate risks are escalating faster than anticipated, with 3.6 billion people living in areas highly impacted by climate change. 

Despite their minimal contribution to global emissions, low-income countries and small island developing states bear the brunt of health impacts, with death rates from extreme weather events being 15 times higher in vulnerable regions compared to less vulnerable ones.

The situation in Malawi serves as a stark reminder of the urgent need for climate action and preparedness, especially in vulnerable regions where the convergence of environmental and health crises is becoming increasingly common. 

Addressing these challenges is vital to safeguarding the well-being of communities in the face of a rapidly changing climate.

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Source: The Guardian

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