June 19, 2013
Cholera epidemic spreads in west, central Africa alerts the UN
The virulent diarrheal disease is spreading quickly along waterways between and within countries, causing an "unacceptably high" rate of fatalities, the UN Children's Fund UNICEF said.
"The size and the scale of the outbreaks mean the region is facing one of the biggest epidemics in its history," UNICEF spokeswoman Marixie Mercado told a news briefing in Geneva.
Chad is experiencing its largest cholera outbreak ever recorded, 9 out of 10 districts in Cameroon are reporting cases and the case fatality rate in western Democratic Republic of Congo is above five percent, she added.
The acute intestinal infection often linked to contaminated drinking water or food, causes severe diarrhoea and vomiting, leaving young children especially vulnerable to death from dehydration. Malnourished children are especially at risk.
Aid agencies say that with proper treatment, fewer than one percent of cholera patients should die.
Five countries – Cameroon, Chad, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ghana, Nigeria – account for 90 percent of overall cases and deaths in more than 20 countries, spokesman Tarik Jasarevic of the World Health Organization (WHO) said.
UNICEF said that many outbreaks had begun outside of the typical cholera season and now affected countries where the disease is not endemic.
It feared further spread in coastal areas of central Africa where higher than normal rainfall was expected until year-end.