One day last month, twelve-year-old Saliu came to his father, complaining of terrible stomach pains. Saliu’s health quickly deteriorated, and his father rushed him to a hospital in Bissau, the capital of Guinea-Bissau, where he was diagnosed with cholera.
Saliu is among many thousands who have fallen ill since cholera broke out in Guinea-Bissau in May. We wrote about it in early September. But, according to Reuters, the disease has still been spreading at a rate of more than 1,000 infections per month. Worst hit are the capital and regions in the west and south.
|UGANDA: A child affected by cholera receives an intravenous drip as his father sits by his bed inside the Cholera Treatment Center of Kitgum Government Hospital in northern Uganda. The center was established with UNICEF support to respond to a cholera outbreak in 2006.|
Cholera is a highly contagious water-borne disease that causes acute diarrhea and vomiting. And in severe cases, it can lead to death from dehydration within hours. Cholera spreads where sewage is left untreated and people don’t have access to clean drinking water. The prevalence of the disease is considered a key indicator of social development.
Since May of this year, 13,507 people have been infected and 220 have died in Guinea-Bissau. UNICEF is providing affected communities with uncontaminated drinking water, Oral Rehydration Salts and other medical supplies, and is also setting up hospital tents to ease the pressure on hospitals that are becoming overcrowded with the constant influx of new patients. Thanks to these efforts, many victims are getting treatment and are recovering. Saliu is at home with his father now, and doing much better. But there’s still much work to be done.
This isn’t the first time that Guinea-Bissau has suffered from cholera outbreaks of this scale. In 2005, an epidemic infected 25,000 people and killed more than 400. Outbreaks continue to plague the tiny nation in western Africa. Only 38 percent of the population has access to clean drinking water, and only 30 percent have knowledge of adequate hygiene practices.
Guniea-Bissau is preparing for elections scheduled for November 16, and there are fears that the electoral campaign will lead to an increase in infections, as people gather in large groups and travel without access to adequate sanitation.
|© UNICEF/NYHQ2006-2205/Georgina Cranston|
|SUDAN: Halima Yaagob Eshage uses a syringe to chlorinate a plastic bottle of water drawn from a motorized pump in El-Geneina, capital of West Darfur State. She is a volunteer trained by the Ministry of Health and the State Water Corporation to chlorinate water for local residents who collect water at the pump. Treated water helps prevent waterborne diseases, such as diarrhoea and cholera.|
Outbreaks of cholera happen regularly throughout the developing world. UNICEF, the World Health Organization, and their partners have recently combated cholera in Angola, Malawi, Sao Tome and Principe, and a dozen other countries. The disease is especially common in the wake of emergencies”both natural and man-made”when infrastructure breaks down and large numbers of people are displaced. In March and April, 1,000 cases of cholera were reported in Namibia, where flooding displaced thousands. Iraq is also experiencing a surge in cholera cases, after a decade of sanctions and damage to municipal water pipes and sewage treatment systems sustained during the war.
In Guinea-Bissau, UNICEF and its partners are also developing longer-term solutions to thwart cholera. They are drilling new boreholes and rehabilitating old ones”and building more than 1,000 latrines throughout the country. Local water authorities and water management committee members are receiving training, and, with the help of religious and traditional leaders, UNICEF is raising awareness about good hygiene practices.
These efforts have proven successful before. In 2007, UNICEF and its partners were able to curb the spread of a major cholera outbreak in Somalia, following flooding in the country. Clean water was tankered to more than 230,000 people, 1,000 wells were chlorinated, and over 180,000 people benefited from a massive campaign promoting hygiene and sanitation.