(formerly IRIN News) Journalism from the heart of crises

Cholera deaths and cases soar

A staff member of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) checks patients' intravenous (IV) fluid infusions at the Beatrice Road Infectious Diseases Clinic in Harare. The clinic has established a cholera treatment centre
WHO/Paul Garwood

There has been an increase in the number of cholera cases and deaths in parts of the Democratic Republic of Congo where an outbreak has been ongoing since March, say humanitarian agencies.



At least 6,910 cases and 384 deaths had been reported as of 3 October, according to a report by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), compared with a total of 3,896 cases and some 265 deaths by 20 July 2011.



"We cannot know the exact cause of the disease but we know that it has spread from one person to the other due to poor hygiene," said Laurence Sailly, the Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) assistant medical coordinator.



The cholera outbreak was first reported in March in the northeastern province of Orientale before spreading along the River Congo to the capital Kinshasa.



People seeking treatment at various points along the river had exacerbated the spread of the disease as far as Kinshasa, said Sailly.



Campaigns to encourage prevention measures, such as hand-washing after using the toilet, sensitization on symptoms and increasing the number of latrines at the ports were ongoing, said Sailly.



Cholera symptoms include acute watery diarrhoea, which can lead to severe dehydration and death if untreated.



The DRC is also experiencing measles and polio outbreaks. Since January, at least 1,418 measles deaths in 15,630 cases have been recorded, according to OCHA.



The UN World Health Organization health cluster coordinator Kossi Ayigan said: "As the season changes there are new microbes [disease-causing micro-organisms] that develop and in environments that are not served with potable water, people easily catch diseases."



Neighbouring Republic of Congo has also recorded cholera deaths in an outbreak that began in June, according to officials. The outbreak, which had led to about 20 deaths as of late August, is thought to have spread from the DRC, with most cases reported along the Congo River, which forms the border between the two countries.



A cholera outbreak was also announced in the Central African Republic (CAR) on 30 September and has so far led to the deaths of at least 14 people, according to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF). The affected villages are mainly along the banks of the Ubangi River, 80km south of the capital, Bangui.



"Because CAR has not had cholera cases in many years, people do not necessarily know what basic measures to take to protect themselves," said UNICEF CAR Representative, Tanya Chapuisat. "Getting the information out to the people about how they as individuals and communities can prevent the spread of cholera is critical."



pc-aw/mw

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