Monday, May 16, 2011

Hard rainy season fuels cholera's spread in Cameroon

The rainy season started early and hard in Cameroon. The rains were so hard that it flooded sewerage and garbage through city streets. The filthy water has helped to fuel the spread of cholera in Cameroon's capital city of Yaounde. Since February there have been 250 deaths from cholera.

From Reuters Alert Net, writer Elias Ntungwe Ngalame describes the new humanitarian situation in Yaounde.

Diplomatic missions in Yaounde have also warned their citizens, especially those arriving for the first time, to avoid flooded and cholera-infected zones. They have been advised not to drink water from dubious sources nor eat fruit from roadside vendors, which may have been washed in contaminated water.

The city council, working in tandem with the health ministry, has been spraying anti- bacterial solution in inundated districts. Floods have turned the pit toilets and garbage heaps common in the city’s poorer neighbourhoods into ponds of raw sewage, which is seeping into nearby wells, infecting the main source of drinking water, health officials say.

The council has also banned the sale of bottled drinking water on the streets, a trade that has become popular among the growing ranks of unemployed youths.

The U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is helping the Cameroon government and the population by providing emergency medical kits containing surgical gloves, water treatment tablets, cholera medicine, oral rehydration salts and public education materials. The U.N. agency is concerned about the impact on children, who are particularly at risk from the killer disease.

At the University Reference Hospital (CHU) in Yaounde, patients, including children, lie contorted in agony on mattresses fouled with diarrhoea brought on by cholera.

“Children and mothers are the most vulnerable group and we have been receiving them here by the day since we opened this treatment centre on March 31,” said Gaelle Faure, head of the Medicins Sans Frontieres (MSF) mission in Yaounde, which is working alongside the government to contain the disease.

According to the international medical aid group, the makeshift unit has treated some 158 cases since April 10. It is also providing hygiene management services, including sensitising people to the importance of adequate sanitation.

The cholera problem is not limited to Cameroon. Since September, cases have occurred in other parts of Central and West Africa, including Chad, Niger and Nigeria, according to a report from the World Health Organization (WHO). The affected area is home to some 5 million people.

In Northern Nigeria and southern Niger, more than 260 deaths and over 3,300 cases have been registered. In Cameroon, 6,199 cholera cases have been recorded in the Far North and 410 people have died, the WHO said.

Around 70 percent of inhabitants in Cameroon’s Far North and border towns in Nigeria, Chad and Central African Republic have no access to potable water, according to the report.

Many also live far from medical facilities that could save their lives by helping them rehydrate and replacing the sodium and potassium lost in diarrhoea and vomit.

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