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Cameroon cholera outbreak could reach Haiti proportions

Apr 26, 2011 02:50 PM

A cholera outbreak in west Africa could kill hundreds of people a day, without urgent aid to stop the disease spreading, a charity has warned.

Since it took hold in central and south west Cameroon in March, about 150 people have died and more than 3,000 have been infected in a flare-up outbreak of the bacterial disease.

The potentially fatal disease, carried by water, is spreading steadily across the central west African country with the worst hit area of Mfoundi reporting 500 new cases and 46 deaths last week. There have been more than 1,500 cases in the capital, Yaounde.

Without immediate government aid, the outbreak could spread rapidly and, like the situation in Haiti in 2010, claim up to 300 lives a day.

"It might get out of control if no action is taken," said children’s charity, Plan International’s Baro Famari. "We need more support.

He said the country have doesn’t have access to clean water or public toilets, and the locals don't understand how to prevent the disease spreading by good hygiene. “We don't have enough public toilets, access to clean water is limited and people don't see the link between hygiene and disease spreading."

Trained volunteers working for the organisation will soon start raising awareness about health and hygiene practice Famari said: "We'll also carry out disinfection of latrines and public water points, as well as supporting the referral and treatment of cases".

Aid workers from charities such as the World Health Organization and Unicef are also working to improve the situation in the affected area.

The disease will take anywhere from four to six months to get under control, according to government estimates and in that time it could spread to neighbouring countries, by the movement of infected people.

Cholera is a serious gut infection that causes diarrhea and dehydration. It is spread through water infected with human waste and can kill within six hours. Children under four years old are most at risk. If untreated, death rates can be as high as 60 per cent. Usually most outbreaks in West Africa happen when rains wash open sewage into streams used for drinking water. An outbreak in northern Cameroon last year killed 600 people.

Nationally 30.7 per cent of Cameroon’s population doesn’t have access to safe drinking water, according to figures from the United Nations Children’s fund, Unicef. Also, some 66.9 per cent of people there lack adequate washing and sewerage facilities, which cause regular outbreaks of Cholera.

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Did you know? In Africa, where often thousands of people share one doctor, SOS Children builds medical centres for the community to use.