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Holding the Line Against Cholera in Eastern DRC

The World Health Organization says it appears to be holding the line against the cholera outbreak in the eastern DRC. Close to two thousand cases of the disease had been reported in North and South Kivu Provinces as of last week.

Dr. Clair-Lise Chaignat is the head of the World Health Organization's Global Taskforce on Cholera Control. From Geneva, she told VOA English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua that re-hydration treatments continue to be shipped into the DRC from Entebbe, Uganda.

"From what we heard from…our staff member in Goma, it seems that the cases are not increasing, at least at the locations he had been. Now, what we have to know is it's very difficult to have an overall picture because the communication is still difficult…. There are still some pockets of locations that we have no access to and no information from. So, we are happy that so far there is not a big epidemic, but we have to continue to be vigilant. We have to continue to put in place preventive measures," she says.

Dr. Chaignat says she does not have any accurate new estimates on the number of people who have cholera or on the number of deaths from the disease. She says, "The surveillance system is in place, but it's not really…functioning (in a way) that you can get regular updates.… But the overall feeling is it's not exploding for the time being, which is very good. So, it's still in the pre-epidemic period."

She says the treatments centers, which provide re-hydration fluids and salts, are located in Goma and in camps for the displaced north of Goma. She cannot confirm there are any in the Rutshuru area, where much of the recent fighting has taken place. However, the area is known for its frequent cholera outbreaks, so there's a good chance treatment centers already existed there and may still be functioning.

Asked how the WHO can learn more about areas where there is little contact, such as combat zones, Chaignat says, "I'm sure that they can use…satellite pictures, satellite images to get a hint of where they could be, aggregation of population, that might have fled certain areas where the fighting had been intense. Then it depends on how the network of local workers can be intensified so that you can get information from (them).

Compared to her assessment of a week ago, she says she is more optimistic about dealing with the cholera outbreak. "But nevertheless, it's not reason to stop doing efforts for prevention and preparedness because we want to make sure that we're going to avert a big epidemic in the near future and the mid-term," she says.