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Cholera Reemerges in Angola

The U.N. Children's Fund says it is rapidly expanding its activities to try to stem a resurgence of cholera in Angola. The deadly and easily transmittable disease has infected more than 62,000 Angolans since February, of whom more than 2,500 have died. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from Geneva.

The cholera epidemic in Angola had gone to sleep during the dry period. But it now has re-awakened with the coming of the rainy season. And this is giving aid agencies cause for alarm.

The U.N. Children's Fund, one of the few international aid agencies still working in Angola, is particularly concerned about the effect it will have on children. Spokesman Michael Bociurkiw says an estimated 35 percent of those affected by the epidemic are children under five.

"Kids are so vulnerable to cholera," he said. "When it hits it can cause death within a matter of hours in many cases, if it is not treated right away. And this [treatment] is basically through hydration. Diarrhea comes and then they get dehydrated very, very quickly. The loss of water is very, very dramatic when cholera hits a child."

Cholera is mainly a disease of the poor. It occurs in densely populated areas where people have little access to clean water. Cholera is preventable. People who do contract it have a good chance of surviving, if they are treated promptly.

And that is why Bociurkiw says UNICEF is embarking on a huge countrywide campaign to educate people about the disease.

"We are going really down to the grassroots-door-to-door type of campaigns to make sure everyone knows how to prevent it," he said. "But, once it hits, [we want to tell people] how to recognize it and where to get treatment really quickly. Basically, our campaign is targeting well over seven million people. But we plan to bring our interventions - safe water and sanitation, hygiene messages, the house to house campaigns - to schools and communities to reach 850,000 people who we believe are at immediate risk."

But Bociurkiw says education alone is not enough. He says people also need water purification tablets and oral re-hydration salts. Most importantly, he says people need to be kept safe from contaminated water. He says one of UNICEF's major tasks will be to clean up Angola's water supply.