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Fears of Cholera Spreading to Central Africa

Cholera has killed around 500 people across West Africa, and the disease has now traveled to Nigeria. Health officials are trying to stem the outbreak and stop the disease from further spreading through the region.

Nine countries in West Africa including Burkina Faso, Guinea Bissau and Senegal have had cholera epidemics this year. The World Health organization has said that over 31,000 people have been sick. There are worries that the outbreaks are likely to spread to Central Africa and cholera deaths in Nigeria are signs that the disease is spreading.

Thirty cholera deaths have been reported recently in north eastern Nigeria. A health officer from the Lagos-based Nigeria Red Cross Society, Ahmed Saidu, says his organization is deeply concerned with the outbreak and is trying to educate people about the dangers of the disease as quickly as possible.

"It's through community effort and education in the community," he explained. "The basic things [against] the outbreak of cholera is health education. You now try to educate them about the means of transmission of the disease."

Cholera, a bacterial disease, is linked to drinking contaminated water. It causes vomiting and diarrhea and, in certain cases, death by dehydration. It is easily treated by rehydrating people with a salt and sugar solution.

Heavy rains this year which caused floods in places like Guinea Bissau are blamed for the outbreak. Guinea Bissau has been hit especially hard. In three months, at least 170 people were killed.

In Burkina Faso, medical officials have had trouble isolating people who have cholera in the densely populated capital, Ouagadougou.

The Director General of Health, Dr. Sosthene Zombre says that they hope that they are over the worst of the epidemic.

"Today we have 655 cases with unfortunately nine dead. All the actions to stop the epidemic are in step and we are confident the epidemic will finish soon," Dr. Zombre said.

Although treatment for cholera is simple, many West Africans live too far away from health facilities to get help in time. Around 230 people have died from the disease in Senegal during an outbreak which began in January and peaked in March.

Cases of the disease continue to be reported in the region, and with the new cases in Nigeria, some health officials fear it could spread to countries like Cameroon and Chad.

Appeals for donor aid money to address problem in Guinea-Bissau were largely ignored.