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Thousands Felled by Diarrhea Outbreak in Ethiopian Capital

Health officials in Ethiopia's capital, Addis Ababa are battling a severe outbreak of Acute Watery Diarrhea. As many as 1,000 cases a day have been reported in the past week, and several people have died. Hospitals are erecting tents to handle the huge increase in patients turning up for treatment.

People have been lining up at hospitals around Addis Ababa for more than a week to get help. Ethiopia's health ministry says 4,000 Acute Watery Diarrhea cases have been confirmed in the past 10 days, 300 in the most recent 24-hour reporting period.

Tent compounds have sprung up on the grounds of at least five hospitals in the capital to treat the unusually high case load.

The U.N. Humanitarian Affairs office issued a bulletin expressing extreme concern that some residents, particularly children, might be especially vulnerable to infection because of malnutrition.

Nationwide, estimates of people in need of emergency food aid have risen steadily in recent months to 6.2 million. The U.N. children's agency reports it has dispatched 47 metric tons of ready-to-use therapeutic formula in a targeted feeding program in recent weeks, and more is on the way.

The U.S. embassy issued a warning to Americans in Addis Ababa last week of the increased risk of acute diarrheal illnesses, including Salmonella, Shigella and Cholera.

Dr. Daddi Jima, deputy director general of the Ethiopian Health and Nutrition Research Institute says the outbreak has been diagnosed as AWD, not cholera.

"We usually report it as Acute Watery Diarrhea. We have never fully confirmed for any etiologic agents," said Dr. Daddi Jima. "Because we more focus on managing the cases, because the management of Acute Watery Diarrhea is similar. So we are focusing on managing the cases we have rather than going into the details of the specific causative agents."

Dr. Daddi says Ethiopian health agencies have a sufficient supply of the antibiotic doxycyclIne, which is effective against AWD. But he cautions that the heavy rains that are normal in Addis Ababa this time of year play havoc with the public water system.

"AWD is endemic because of poor hygienic situation due to lack of enough water resource distribution, and low coverage of latrine use and the existence of the latrine is low, so because of this AWD happens every year in this country," he said.

The latest U.N. humanitarian bulletin says the government and partner agencies have set up a central command center to scale up efforts to contain the AWD outbreak. Partner groups, including many health agencies are meeting twice daily to coordinate a response wherever a flare-up may occur.

Aid agencies also say critical water shortages are affecting other regions of Ethiopia. U.N. officials say a drought in the Somali region is being compounded by the migration of unusually large herds of livestock from other drought-hit areas in neighboring Somalia and Kenya.