Cholera outbreaks have affected thousands of people in both
the eastern DRC and Zimbabwe. The World Health Organization is rushing
treatment to areas of the DRC where recent fighting has displaced many
thousands of people. The WHO is also trying to help Zimbabweans, whose
collapsed health care system is said to be contributing to the problem.
Dr. Claire-Lise Chaignat is in charge of the
World Health Organization's Global Taskforce on Cholera Control. From Geneva,
she spoke to VOA English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua about the
cholera outbreak in conflict-ridden eastern DRC.
"We know that cholera is endemic in the area.
That means they have regular occurrence of cholera cases in North and South
Kivu (Provinces). But…with the start of the intensified fighting we have seen a
clear jump of the cholera cases…. And this started early October. After early
November, we have seen that there's a threefold increase in northern Kivu of
cases," she says.
WHO estimates there have been about one thousand
cases of cholera so far in North Kivu and another 850 in South Kivu. However,
those are rough estimates because of the lack of access to many areas. The WHO,
at this time, has no information on fatalities.
Asked how to contain the outbreak, Dr. Chaignat
says, "It's really running after the target somehow. But what we try is to be
quicker than the cholera…. We have intensified our preparedness activities.
That means we have shipped 60 tons of supplies to Entebbe in Uganda…that can be
shipped immediately to the hotspots in DRC as soon as we know where the
She says there are a number of NGOs in the area
very experienced in the treatment of cholera, such as Doctors Without Borders,
Merlin and CARE. She says another problem is ensuring there is enough clean
drinking water in a region where it is normally scarce.
As for Zimbabwe, where a political crisis has
contributed to a humanitarian crisis, cholera is reported spreading quickly.
Dr. Chaignat says, "We see that recently we have had an increase in the number
of cases. And in fact since August, we have now more than 2,800 cases that have
been reported and 115 deaths. This high case fatality rate shows that in fact
the patients don't have access easily to proper healthcare services. And that
is thought is very worrisome because we know the high standards that Zimbabwe
had in previous years in regards to healthcare assistance…. And they also have
a big problem with safe water provision."
She says that to contain the spread of the
disease in Zimbabwe, surveillance must be improved to pinpoint the hotspots and
get treatment shipped to those areas quickly. She also says that education
about the disease needs to be increased among Zimbabweans.
The WHO official says treatment of cholera
is relatively simple, using oral re-hydration containing sugar and salts in
most cases and intravenous hydration in more severe cases.