(formerly IRIN News) Journalism from the heart of crises

Cholera kills at least 51 in north

Children transporting water in the western Cameroon town of Mbouda. Facing a particularly long dry season Mbouda is seeing severe water shortages after a catchment area dried up. March 2009
Reinnier Kazé

Cholera has killed at least 51 people in the past few weeks in northern Cameroon, where health experts say safe water and proper sanitation are sorely lacking.



“[The fight against cholera] here will be difficult because the hygiene conditions are awful,” said a health official who was not authorized to be quoted. He noted that most people defecate in open areas.



The regions affected are Cameroon’s North and Extreme North, with the first infections reported in September, according to the Health Ministry.



As of 14 October 23 people had died in Extreme North, of 144 infected, according to a Health Ministry document that is updated regularly, while in neighbouring North region 28 people had died of 152 infected.



This area of Cameroon is on the southern fringe of the Sahel and water is scarce; existing boreholes and wells are insufficient to meet the needs of the population, according to UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in Cameroon.



In rural Cameroon only 30 percent of inhabitants have access to safe water and 15 percent to sanitation systems, according to UNICEF.



In the cholera-hit areas local authorities have begun disinfecting wells and other water points, according to Albert Friki, prefect in one affected department of Extreme North region. Authorities are also urging communities to practice proper hygiene.



“We are urging people to be careful with the food and water they consume, and with how they handle the remains of people who died of cholera,” he said.



Cholera epidemics are frequent in northern Cameroon but the current outbreak is particularly severe, the health ministry official told IRIN. The highest number of cholera deaths in recent years was in the commercial capital Douala in 2004 when cholera killed 100 people.



Some 75 percent of people infected with cholera develop no symptoms but can pass on the infection, according to the World Health Organization; the disease is extremely virulent and can kill healthy adults within hours, WHO says.



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