AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
When Cyclone Idai hit southeastern Africa last month, it destroyed homes, flooded cities, stranded rural communities, and it killed at least 800 people. Now there's another threat - cholera. Health officials in Mozambique say more than 2,400 people there have been infected by the disease so far. Five have died. Since Wednesday, health officials have raced to vaccinate as many people as possible.
Earlier today, we reached Dr. Ilesh Jani. He is director general of the National Institute of Health in Mozambique, and he's helping coordinate the campaign.
ILESH JANI: So our target population is 870,000 people. So we are distributing the vaccine to health facilities in some camps where there are displaced people. And we are also organizing mobile teams that go around schools, markets where people gather. And the reason we can do that is because the vaccine is oral administration. So people take it by mouth. So it's a vaccine that has been designed for this kind of emergency situation.
CORNISH: I want to jump in here. You have this oral vaccine. What's been the reaction? Have you had a great many people taking part?
JANI: Yes. Cholera is not an unknown disease in Mozambique. We have had outbreaks of cholera for the last many years. So people know what cholera looks like. People know that cholera is a deadly disease. So we have expected a big turnout of people. I can tell you that until yesterday, we had vaccinated 217,000 people, which is about a quarter of our target population. So it is really good to see that many people coming and wanting to be vaccinated.
CORNISH: After the damage from the flooding and the wind of this cyclone, what are some of the issues that help contribute to the spread of cholera that people are still facing?
JANI: What has happened now to the pipeline and then the flood is that sanitation in these affected areas has been severely affected. So the infrastructure has been severely damaged. Water sources have been contaminated by the sewage.
So we have people having to consume water that is contaminated by the cholera bacterium. And resolution of some of these damages is going to take some time. And that's why we thought that doing a vaccination campaign will be very helpful.
CORNISH: Do you feel confident that a vaccine could essentially contain the outbreak?
JANI: We are confident that the vaccination is a good complementary measure. So by the time we started the vaccination, we already had a number of cholera cases. What we are trying to prevent is an outbreak of huge proportions that would essentially make our entire health system collapse completely.
CORNISH: Dr. Ilesh Jani is director general of Mozambique's National Institute of Health. Thank you for speaking with us.
JANI: Thank you for having me.
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