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Congo's Southeastern Cholera Epidemic Grows

Aid workers in the Democratic Republic of Congo are expressing concern that a cholera epidemic in the southeastern mining region is getting worse, despite attention to the problem. About 100 people have died since the outbreak began in September in a region experiencing a population boom. VOA's Nico Colombant reports from our West and Central Africa bureau in Dakar.

Francois Dumont from the Belgium chapter of Doctors without Borders says the overall number of cases in this cholera outbreak in Katanga province now tops 4,000.

The two hardest hit cities are the provincial capital Lubumbashi and mineral-rich Likasi. The rural area of Bukama has also been affected.

Dumont says the number of new victims is still going up on a weekly basis.

"We noted again an increase of the number of patients in both Lubumbashi and Likasi," he said. "That means we have not reached the epidemic peak yet so that is quite worrying. Even if now we are able to cope with a big number of patients, the increase in the number of patients in our treatment centers, we have to respond much more now on the causes of this outbreak, which are mainly access to water and hygiene conditions."

Cholera is a waterborne disease, which causes sudden and serious diarrhea that can lead to death by severe dehydration and kidney failure.

This cholera outbreak coincides with a population surge in Katanga, as post-war mining accelerates.

Dumont says poor residential areas are especially dangerous.

"For example, in Likasi, it is the Kikula neighborhood and 90 percent more or less of the cases of cholera come from this neighborhood," he added. "This neighborhood is very poor. People live in extremely poor conditions."

Dumont explains cholera spreads mostly during the rainy season.

"They have little access to safe water," he noted. "People take water in water sewers that are contaminated by the waste, by latrines, mainly because of the rainy season, so it is important now to provide safe water to these people."

If identified and there is access to treatment, cholera is easy to get rid of. The World Health Organization states on its website that the prompt administration of oral rehydration salts to replace lost fluids nearly always results in a cure.

Left untreated cholera can kill quickly, in as little as 24 hours. Aid workers have set up treatment centers in Lubumbashi, Likasi and Bukama, but fear the epidemic could spread to other cities and towns.