Cyclone Idai: Amidst cholera outbreak fears, women face further serious health risks

"most women have lost their livelihoods and report being at risk of sexual violence and exploitation"

Beira/Harare/Lilongwe – Women and girls affected by last month’s destructive Cyclone Idai are facing serious health risks due to shortages of menstrual hygiene supports, CARE experts have revealed.

Cyclone Idai caused devastation across Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe last month, killing at least 1,000 people and leaving around 3 million in desperate need of help. The situation is particularly alarming in Mozambique where hundreds of thousands of people live in temporary shelters as their homes have been destroyed.

“There are severe risks for around 650,000 menstruating women and girls whose hygiene is threatened by unsafe water and a cholera outbreak. While collecting water and preparing food for their families, women are even more exposed to the danger of contracting waterborne diseases,” says Marc Nosbach, Country Director for CARE in Mozambique.

“We have seen young girls having no other option than washing their menstrual cloths in receding and most certainly contaminated flood water. No space to dry their laundry and therefore being forced to put on clammy clothes is adding even more risks for their health,” Nosbach explained.

During the last week, the Government of Mozambique reported an increase of registered cholera cases from 1,000 to more than 4,000, with seven people who already lost their lives.

Nosbach added: "CARE is working with other NGOS and the Mozambique Ministry of Health in setting up treatment centers and clinics, as well as helping to run a massive vaccination campaign. In addition to cholera, the extensive damage to health infrastructure and medical supplies still requires considerable effort to restore the functioning of the health system and ensure that people are able to receive basic, maternal and child care or for chronic diseases such as HIV and Tuberculosis."

In Malawi, issues of women’s health are also in the spotlight.

Mwangitama Chavula, CARE’s Maternal Child Health and Nutrition Coordinator: “In the current crisis, most women have lost their livelihoods and report being at risk of sexual violence and exploitation, particularly women from single-headed families and girls. The risks they were experiencing included being harassed when travelling outside their communities to fetch firewood, water and food, lack of washrooms. No bathing, washing and drying spaces for women in most camps.

“CARE is supporting women with hygiene kits that include soaps, sanitary pads, water buckets and other items. However, the needs here are immense and so sexual and reproductive health needs, including access to family planning services are still unmet particularly for women.

“With the scarcity of food, girls and women, particularly pregnant and lactating mothers, are also reporting to us that they are experiencing less access to nutritional food,” Chavula said.

CARE staff in Zimbabwe warn that the lack of adequate water and sanitation infrastructure in the affected communities poses a health disaster in the camps where displaced communities are living.

CARE Emergency Coordinator, Abel Whande, said: “We are particularly addressing the issue of the lack of segregation of latrines by gender, as well as the lack of bathing facilities. Women’s menstrual hygiene needs are largely unmet, though CARE has distributed dignity kits.”

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CARE has spokespeople available in all three countries (including a Canadian in Zimbabwe). Contact:

Darcy Knoll
Communications Specialist | CARE Canada
darcy.knoll@care.ca | 613-228-5641

Help those affected by Cyclone Idai