20 October 2019
Since Madagascar’s major plague outbreak in August, around 2,000 cases of infection have been confirmed and 209 people have died. Photo: CGTN Africa/Youtube
Since Madagascar’s major plague outbreak in August, around 2,000 cases of infection have been confirmed and 209 people have died. Photo: CGTN Africa/Youtube

The forgotten plague in Madagascar

As 2017 is about to draw to an end, media across the world have been summing up the major global events that took place over the past 12 months.

However, while Chinese media outlets have been focusing on mainstream political and diplomatic events, some regional events that also deserve our attention have largely gone under the radar. Among them is the massive Black Death plague outbreak in Madagascar.

As the fourth largest island and one of the poorest countries in the world, Madagascar has been notorious for rampant corruption and poor governance. Suffice it to say that the outbreak was partly a natural and partly a man-made disaster.

It wasn’t the first time Madagascar saw a major plague outbreak. Back in 2014 a smaller outbreak took place on the island and claimed some 40 lives.

Then in August this year, the country witnessed its worst plague outbreak in 50 years on a national scale. To make things worse, most of the cases were transmitted person-to-person, and the virus that caused the plague also mutated. So far around 2,000 cases of infection have been confirmed and 209 people have died.

Plague is a deadly and highly contagious disease, and can cause death within 72 hours. At one point, the plague outbreak in Madagascar was so intense and worrisome that the World Health Organization (WHO) had to issue travel warnings not only for the island but also for nine other neighboring countries including Mauritius and Seychelles.

The WHO travel warnings have taken a heavy toll on the tourism industry of Madagascar, and on the country’s already weak economy as a whole.

The government recently announced that the plague outbreak is already under control, but there is obviously still a long way to go before travelers’ confidence can be fully restored.

Apart from the serious shortage of doctors, another major reason why the plague in Madagascar spread so quickly is that shortly after the initial outbreaks in the major cities, infected patients began to escape from hospitals by the hundreds of thousands and return to their own homes, as most of them would rather self-medicate than entrust their lives to local doctors.

And worse still, the plague was not the only problem facing Madagascar in 2017. Just shortly after the outbreak had been contained, Madagascar again grabbed international headlines after more than a hundred inmates escaped from a detention facility in the north-eastern part of the country after a local mob stormed the prison in search of a murder suspect.

During the plague outbreak, in-person jail visits by families and friends were banned across Madagascar, and many believed this drastic measure further fueled the grievances of inmates, hence the massive prison break.

At the height of Madagascar’s plague epidemic, there was widespread concern among health experts around the world that the plague crisis on the island could eventually result in a global outbreak, considering that the country is poorly governed and many of its people are ignorant about disease control.

These health experts may have reason to be worried. Madagascar is an impoverished country where 80 percent of the population is just living on less than US$2 a day. If any disease outbreak spun out of control and triggered a mass exodus of refugees from the island, the result could be catastrophic.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Dec 20

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

– Contact us at [email protected]


Associate professor and director of Global Studies Programme, Faculty of Social Science, at the Chinese University of Hong Kong; Lead Writer (Global) at the Hong Kong Economic Journal