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Cholera: West Africa's recurring nightmare
As the region is facing its worst cholera outbreak in years, are governments doing enough to tackle the epidemic?
Last Modified: 27 Aug 2012 11:55

West Africa is facing its worst cholera outbreak in years. The water-borne disease, which causes severe vomiting and diarrhoea, is spreading through coastal slums with more than 20,000 cases this year.

"It [cholera] is a disease of poverty. Whenever you get overcrowding and unhygienic conditions there's going to be the risk of cholera, and that's what we're seeing in Sierra Leone."

- Huw Taylor, a professor of microbial ecology

Guinea and Ghana are among the affected countries, where up to 300 people have died. In Guinea, cholera has infected more than 2,700 people, with 5,600 more infected in Ghana.

But the worst affected is Sierra Leone. UNICEF says there are more than 11,000 cases, most of them in the capital city Freetown, where poor sanitation and dirty water in slum areas has contributed to the spread of the disease.

The death toll continues to rise and aid agencies are scrambling to treat thousands of patients, fearing the worst is yet to come.

The World Health Organisation estimates that the number of cases in the country could reach 32,000.

"We and the ministry of health and all the other actors are doing their very best but I have to say that the needs are large, not just in Freetown but outside of Freetown as well. And the needs are very big and we do need more support," says Anne Maithe, the Medicins Sans Frontieres coordinator in charge of the cholera operations in Sierra Leone.

The Sierra Leone government has declared the cholera outbreak a national emergency.

"A presidential task force has been put in place, not only to make sure that the incidents we have are under control but to be able to prevent further [spread]. This is why we've asked for [international] help," says Zainab Bangura, the health minister of Sierra Leone.

"Cholera is a reality for the most vulnerable population in Guinea, in Conakry … the patients we see arriving at our treatment facility are in very, very bad shape and they are arriving way too late."

- Daniel Mouque, an emergency field coordinator, Medecins Sans Frontieres

The British government on Friday announced a $3m plan to combat cholera in Sierra Leone.

But  what will it take to end the recurrence of cholera in Africa? And are governments doing enough to deal with it?

Joining presenter Folly Bah Thibault to discuss this are guests: Huw Taylor, a professor of microbial ecology at the University of Brighton and a specialist of water-borne diseases; Shuja Shafi, a specialist on health protection; Daniel Mouque, an emergency field coordinator for Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders); and Zainab Bangura, the health minister of Sierra Leone.

"Over the years the conditions that are really rife, that facilitate the spread, are there and it is those that need to addressed, and that is really the root cause ... The rainy season is between May and October so we've got a long spell still to go before the worst comes."

Shuja Shafi, a health protection specialist

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Source:
Al Jazeera
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