Why outbreaks sparked unrest

Health officials say false claims about the spread of a cholera outbreak in northern Mozambique have led to violent protests and deaths.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has highlighted cases in which misinformation about the disease has contributed to the unrest.

Through social media posts and local media reports, we looked at some of these protests to understand what was behind the issues.

A crowd gathers near where a man was killed outside a health center in Guru

The death of a man in Gurue was recorded in a video obtained by the BBC

In a recent incident, a man was beaten to death in the town of Gurue, Zambezia province, by people who falsely accused him of spreading cholera, according to health officials.

The event was captured in graphic video seen by the BBC which has been circulating on social messaging apps and shows a man’s body as a large crowd looks on.

In another protest, four people were killed as police battled a group attacking homes and property belonging to local officials in Nacala Porto, Nampula province.

Further north, in the province of Cabo Delgado, police fired into the air to disperse a mob trying to attack a health center in the district of Meluco.

Map of the provinces of Cabo Delgado, Nampula and Zambezia

Map of the provinces of Cabo Delgado, Nampula and Zambezia

What do people believe?

It’s unclear what’s fueling the misinformation – which is largely spread by word of mouth – although our social media monitoring has provided some insight.

Cholera thrives in conditions where water sanitation is inadequate.

Some online publications falsely claim that measures implemented by local health officials, such as adding chlorine to water supplies and using purifiers, in fact spread the disease.

The BBC’s Jose Tembe in Maputo says almost all violent cholera cases stem from misinformation.

“Also targeted are local leaders who are mobilizing people to use the purifiers. These leaders are mistakenly believed to be part of the alleged group spreading the waterborne disease,” he says.

In a caption accompanying the video of the murder in Garue, the victim allegedly distributed infected “dust” at a property in the area.

The WHO’s representative for Africa in Mozambique, Severin von Xylander, says misinformation is dangerous because it can fuel behavior that promotes the spread of the disease.

Mozambique has been battling an outbreak of the disease since September last year.

It is just one of many countries in the region facing an increase in cholera cases, including South Africa, Malawi, Zimbabwe, DR Congo and Kenya.

“This, in turn, undermines trust in health authorities, which hampers public health responses and ultimately prolongs outbreaks.”

Chart showing 30,943 confirmed cholera cases and 135 deaths so far

Chart showing 30,943 confirmed cholera cases and 135 deaths so far

Additional reporting by Evelin Uachave and Jose Tembe

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