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Cholera Epidemic Spreads in DRC's Katanga Province - 2002-03-12

United Nations officials say that more than 5,000 people are infected with cholera in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo and over 400 people have already died of the disease. Although cholera exists in an endemic state in the DRC with cases first reported last November, the U.N. says a sudden increase in the epidemic began earlier this year.

The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, OCHA, says the cholera outbreak is taking place in the southeastern Katanga province. OCHA spokeswoman Elisabeth Byrs says the U.N. has sent 21 tons of non-food items to the area and is working alongside the Ministry of Health.

She says that treatment centers have been set up to try to prevent people from moving from place to place and spreading the disease. An information campaign broadcast by radio and TV also tells people about the need to disinfect water. Ms. Byrs says health teams have been sent into the infected area.

"Some people are sent into the villages to talk about the disease and there are also nine new treatment centers that have been set up in the provinces," she explains.

World Health Organization spokesman Iain Simpson says a number of U.N. agencies, including WHO, as well as several international non-governmental groups are aiding the Congolese to contain the cholera outbreak.

"There is a team of health workers from the Ministry of Health together with Medecins Sans Frontieres and the World Health Organization which have traveled to the affected area," he said. "They are in the process of putting in place outbreak control measures and also providing training and surveillance systems to the local health staff so they can deal with this outbreak and also can deal with and identify any future outbreaks."

Cholera is spread through contaminated water and food. It is a severe, intestinal infection that causes diarrhea which can lead to dehydration and death if not treated quickly.