Since August 2017, 143 people have died and 2000 have been infected in Madagascar by the Black Death, the plague that notoriously wiped out one-third of Europe during the Middle Ages. The disease is an annual occurrence in Madagascar, but this year’s breakout is especially severe, the worst they have seen in over 50 years, as it has spread to major towns and cities.
Officials have been going to extreme measures to contain the outbreak. Medical staff equipped with anti-bacterial chemicals are treating suspected plague victims. Dr Ashok Chopra, a professor of microbiology and immunology at the University of Texas, urges immediate action as, “If the treatment is not given in a very short period of time these people will end up dying.”
This year’s outbreak is especially frightening because not only does it include the bubonic strain, which spreads from mosquito bites, but also the pneumonic strain, which is the most contagious, making it the deadliest, as it is passed on between people through coughing, sneezing and spitting.
The plague threatens to ravage the rest of Madagascar, as relatives of the victims refuse to part with the bodies. Police are having to seize the bodies to place them in a sealed bag and bury them in a common grave, which goes against Madagascan culture for burying the dead.
The World Health Organization has delivered about 1.2 million doses of antibiotics and has pledged to allocate $1.5 million in emergency funds to help fight the disease. WHO and the Ministry of Health are training local medical workers how to identify cases of the disease, and how to trace people who have been in contact with impacted individuals, so that they may be given proactive treatment.
Malawi is now on high alert as it becomes the tenth country with issue warnings for potential disease outbreaks. The remaining nine countries that the WHO has warned could be at risk are; Kenya, Ethiopia, South Africa, Mozambique, Tanzania, Reunion, Mauritius, Seychelles and Comoros.
Unfortunately, experts have revealed that they cannot rule out spikes in the cases of this disease that can kill in as little as 24 hours, for another six months.