The announcement from the government of Zambia to keep close schools for another two weeks comes after a delay in re-opening schools after the Christmas break, with children across Zambia now missing the first five weeks of school this year.
More than 500 people have died and at least 13,000 people have been confirmed with cholera since the outbreak was first reported in October 2023, with a daily average of 400 new cases over the past seven days, according to UNICEF.
This latest health crisis in Zambia is posing a threat to children’s well-being, education and protection not seen since the COVID-19 pandemic, said Save the Children.
Cholera, a highly contagious disease, spreads quickly through contaminated water. It can also spread rapidly in areas with inadequate treatment of sewerage, flooded areas, and areas without safe drinking water. Zambia has had several major cholera outbreaks since the 1970’s but this current outbreak is the worst for 20 years, according to the government.
The outbreak is being linked to warmer weather and unusually heavy rains and storms in southern Africa in recent months.
Zambia topped a list of the world’s underreported crisis in 2023 as other emergencies overshadowed the growing needs in this large, peaceful country in southern Africa. Rising hunger levels are impacting the ability of children to go to school, with some staying home due to hunger pains, and contributing to some of the highest malnutrition rates in the world.
Jo Musonda, Country Director for Save the Children in Zambia, said: “Nearly four years after the devastating COVID-19 pandemic first hit the world, shutting schools in Zambia for months, children are yet again bearing the brunt of a health crisis.
“We know from the COVID-19 pandemic that the longer children are out of school, the less likely they are to go back at all, putting them at risk of child marriage, forced labour, violence, abuse, and exploitation.
“We need the authorities to prioritise making schools safe for children so that their return to the classroom is not put off yet again – and in the meantime, children need access to remote learning so that they don’t fall behind.”
Save the Children is working with the Zambian government to try to track and contain the spread of cholera through the provision of water and hygiene services, case management, and health staff at cholera treatment centres, as well as supporting the Ministry of Education at schools with chlorine, handwashing sets, soap, hand sanitisers, waste bins, and disinfectants.
Save the Children has been working in Zambia for 40 years, running health, nutrition, education, and protection programmes across the country. In response to the climate crisis, Save the Children is supporting children and their families impacted by drought and floods, providing education support, emergency cash and voucher assistance and school feeding programmes.
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