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Africa
UN alarm over African cholera epidemic
Thousands dead and up to 85,000 infected in western and central Africa, UNICEF says, in one of region's worst outbreaks.
Last Modified: 11 Oct 2011 15:15
The UN warned that the epidemic is the worst the region has seen and more must be done to stem its cause (Getty)

A cholera epidemic sweeping through west and central Africa, one of the largest in the region's history, has killed at least 2,466 and infected 85,000 more, this year alone, according to the United Nations.

Unicef, the UN Children's Fund, said on Tuesday the virulent disease was causing an "unacceptably high" rate of fatalities and called for a redoubling of efforts from government agencies.

"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.

Five countries - Cameroon, Chad, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ghana, Nigeria - account for 90 per cent of overall cases and deaths in more than 20 countries.

Chad is experiencing its largest cholera outbreak ever recorded, while nine out of 10 Cameroonian districts are reporting cases. In the western Democratic Republic of Congo, fatality rates as a consequence of the disease exceed five per cent.

Aid agencies say that with proper treatment fewer than one per cent of cholera patients should die.

Cholera, an acute intestinal infection often linked to contaminated drinking water or food, causes severe diarrhoea and vomiting and is prevelant among poorer nations.

Access rates to water and sanitation in central and west Africa are among the lowest in the world, with all 24 countries in the region failing to meet Millennium Development Goal targets for sanitation, according to the UN.

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 the end of the year.

It identified three major cross-border cholera outbreaks: the Lake Chad Basin (Chad, Cameroon, Nigeria and Niger), the West Congo Basin (Democratic Republic of Congo, Republic of Congo and the Central African Republic) and Lake Tanganyika (Democratic Republic of Congo and Burundi).

Unicef also said it was providing treatment kits and conducting community awareness campaigns on hygiene as poor sanitation is the underlying cause for cholera outbreaks.

The World Health Organisation is providing technical assistance and helping authorities improve disease surveillance to detect cases, spokesman Tarik Jasarevic said.

There an estimated 3-5 million cholera cases and about 100,000-120,000 deaths worldwide each year.

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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