Monday, October 25, 2010

A reminder of the continuing cholera problem in West Africa

As attention is drawn to the cholera outbreak in Haiti, UNICEF reminds us of the ongoing cholera problem in West Africa. UNICEF says that 1,500 people in Nigeria have died of cholera in the last year. The lack of sanitation, clean water, and hygiene is blamed for the prevalence of the disease.

From this Associated Press story that we found at the Washington Post, writer Jon Gambrell tells us more about the UNICEF statement.

The deaths come as the waterborne illness continues to plague other West African nations, including tiny Benin, where humanitarian officials worry a devastating flood there may spread it further. But officials hope oil-rich Nigeria will see fewer cases in the coming weeks as the dry season approaches and local governments attempt to warn people of the danger.

Geneva-based UNICEF spokeswoman Marixie Mercado said Monday that as of Oct. 20, there had been 1,555 deaths in Nigeria from cholera recorded this year, with 38,173 cases reported. At last count in September, when local and federal officials in Nigeria assured the public the disease was under control, Nigeria's Health Ministry said there were under 800 dead and 13,000 people sickened.

According to the World Health Organization statistics, the current outbreak is the worst in Nigeria since 1991, when 7,654 people died.

Cholera is a fast-developing, highly contagious infection that causes diarrhea, leading to severe dehydration and possible death. The disease is easily preventable with clean water and sanitation but in places like West Africa, sanitation often remains an afterthought in teeming city slums and mud-walled villages.

In Nigeria, almost half the country's 150 million people lack access to clean water and proper sanitation, according to the WHO, even though the government earns billions of dollars a year as one of Africa's top oil exporters. Poor basic education among rural villagers and a lack of staffed clinics and hospitals also allows the disease to quickly lead to deaths, said Chris Cormency, a UNICEF official based in Senegal monitoring the epidemic.

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