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International Red Cross: Increase of Cholera in Southern Africa

The International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies warns that millions of Africans weakened by hunger are vulnerable to a new outbreak of cholera. The Red Cross shipped out medical treatment kits this week to combat the disease.

The Red Cross says more than 14 million people are at risk for cholera and other serious diseases because of the food shortage in southern Africa.

Dr. Hakan Sandbladh of the Red Cross says he is receiving reports of an increase in cholera cases.

"We have reports from Zimbabwe and also other countries that cholera is actually soaring, reporting high numbers and also quite a big number of them dying from this disease," he said. "And this is one of the problems that the food crisis together with HIV-AIDS prevalence in the area is so high and compounds the situation. Infections like malaria, like cholera, and others like TB (tuberculosis) are actually increasing rapidly."

Dr. Sandbladh says that over the past six months there have been 120,000 cases of cholera reported in southern Africa. He says between one and five percent of the cases result in death.

The Red Cross emergency health advisor says in the past month 500 cases of cholera, with 24 deaths, have been reported in Zimbabwe.

"That is a very strong indicator that we need to do something urgently and this is what we have also taken action for sending five cholera kits to cover the needs of 5,000 people for a start," Dr. Sandbladh said. "And also we are looking into how we can support the existing health care system."

Dr. Sandbladh says the Red Cross is receiving reports of high numbers of cases of cholera occurring in South Africa and the Democratic Republic of Congo, but he could not provide specific figures.

He says with the severe famine in the region people are resorting to using water sources that they normally do not use. He says the unclean water is helping to create the flare-up of cholera.