17 February 2013

Mozambique: Cholera Disinformation Leads to Clashes

Photo: Nancy Palus/IRIN
A man washes his hands during cholera prevention session (file photo)

Maputo — At least two people were injured, and two others are reported dead in clashes in Mecufi district, in the northern province of Cabo Delgado, between police and mobs claiming that health workers are causing rather than curing cholera and other diarrhoeal diseases.

The chain of events began on 23 January when a group of people tried to invade the health post in the Mecufi administrative post of Murrebue. They said they wanted to remove patients from the health post for fear that they were being deliberately infected with cholera by th health workers.

The local police requested reinforcements from the provincial capital, Pemba, and made eight arrests of people who had allegedly spread the disinformation about cholera and led the demonstration.

A few days later, according to a report in the Maputo daily “Noticias”, unidentified individuals beat to death Cesario Abuchir, the secretary of the Mecufi neighbourhood Saulane “B”, accusing him of working with the health authorities and government officials to spread cholera. He was held responsible for an outbreak of diarrhea and vomiting, some of which may be caused by cholera.

On Wednesday there were more disturbances as a mob attempted to assault the Murrebue police post, in an attempt to release the people arrested after the attack on the health post.

A local teacher told reporters that the police were obliged to open fire to restore order. Two people were injured and there are unconfirmed reports that another person may have died. On Thursday all schools, markets and other services in Murrebue were closed, and local leaders had mostly fled.

One person who did not flee, a traditional chief named Malique Quitica, declared “in recent days the situation has been very bad, and we don’t know where it’s all going to end”.

Every time there is an outbreak of cholera in Cabo Delgado, or other northern provinces, there are people who claim that the government and health workers are deliberately trying to poison local people. The results have often been tragic, including deaths, injuries and the destruction of health equipment.

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