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Cholera Spreads in Drought-Stricken Somalia Amid Famine Threat

Newly displaced mother Sahra Muse, 32, comforts her malnourished child Ibrahim Ali, 7, in their makeshift shelter at a camp in the Garasbaley area on the outskirts of Mogadishu, Somalia, March 28, 2017.

Cholera is spreading in Somalia, further complicating drought relief efforts as the country teeters on famine. Health officials are complaining about a lack of access to some areas due to security challenges.

Health workers say at least 300 new cases and dozens of deaths are reported each day.

World Health Organization Cholera expert Abdinasir Abubakar said the situation may worsen in a few weeks.

“I think it is good for people to understand also this time of the year is not cholera season for Somalia. The actual cholera season will start during the rainy season, which is probably in a few weeks' time. So, we describe this as off-season and we are expecting in a few weeks' time when the rain comes, probably the trend of cholera will be probably even double or triple,” said Abubakar.

The health agency says about 5.5 million people in Somalia are at risk of contracting waterborne diseases like cholera.

The drought affecting most of eastern Africa has made the situation worse, leaving many Somalis without access to clean water and food.

Somalis displaced by the drought, arrive at makeshift camps in the Tabelaha area on the outskirts of Mogadishu, March 30, 2017.
Somalis displaced by the drought, arrive at makeshift camps in the Tabelaha area on the outskirts of Mogadishu, March 30, 2017.

According to medical aid agencies, more than 25,000 people were affected with cholera in the past three months, at least 450 have died.

Health ministry official Isaac Mursal said it is difficult to control the disease and the new cases are interfering with their daily operations.

He said it is challenging to distribute medicines to two or five villages for a day and then get new cholera cases in 10 villages. He said sometimes medicine that was meant for one village is distributed to four or five villages.

Abubakar said medics are finding it hard to access some areas due to insecurity.

“We are struggling, and we are trying to do what we can do, but what is hampering the control of outbreak is access; many of the locations in Somalia are inaccessible, and we are finding it very difficult to do the control measures," he said.

Aid agencies are getting access to central Somalia, and other parts of the country except for southern regions where al-Shabab is in control. In those regions there have been 950 cases of cholera and 80 deaths since the beginning of the year.

More than six million Somalis, half the population, need food, water and medical assistance.