Malawi has delayed the opening of public schools in its two major cities of Blantyre and Lilongwe, the health minister said on Monday, to try to slow down a surge in cholera deaths.

The total number of cases has surged to 17,824 and the number of deaths to 595 since cases were first reported in March

with the mortality rate increasing to 3.34 percent, according to the Ministry of Health. Victims in Malawi include medics at public health centres.

Cholera is an annual problem during Malawi’s rainy months from November to March, when the number of deaths is around 100 a year. But the current outbreak is expected to be the worst yet.

The United Nations health agency says fatality rates are rising in about 30 countries around the world that reported cholera outbreaks in 2022, about a third higher than in a typical year.

Cholera is spread by contaminated food or water and can cause acute diarrhoea. Many people have mild symptoms, but it can kill within hours if untreated.

Chiponda called on authorities to tighten control measures, including spraying chlorine to disinfect congested places such as markets and schools and stepping up inoculations.