A cholera outbreak in Cameroon has claimed at least a dozen lives in the central African nation. Hundreds of people have been rushed to several hospitals. It is feared some of the cases were imported from Nigeria and may infect refugees fleeing the Boko Haram insurgency.
The first cases of cholera were reported two months ago along the country's northern border with Nigeria, said Arabo Saidou, the highest government official in charge of health in Cameroon's north region.
The disease has continued to spread since four cases of cholera were recorded May 18 in the northern Cameroon town of Mayo Oulo, Saidou said. He added that the deaths, especially of children, have occurred both in and outside of hospitals.
In May, the Word Health Organization reported that Nigeria's Adamawa, Borno and Yobe states had been experiencing recurrent cholera outbreaks since February, with a total of 1,664 suspected cases and 31 deaths.
Many people from the three Nigerian states travel to Cameroon for business. At least 100,000 are in Cameroon as refugees fleeing the Boko Haram insurgency, with over 90,000 at the Minawao refugee camp.
Issac Bayoro, a Cameroonian epidemiologist working in the Mokolo administrative area where the Minawao refugee camp is located, said staff members are educating refugees about hygiene practices and are also screening Nigerians coming to the camp in a bid to protect the refugees and their host communities.
Bayoro said many people continue to defecate in the open air or in streams and river beds from which both humans and animals drink, thereby facilitating the spread of cholera. He said that many people do not wash their hands with soap and that many believe Africans are naturally vaccinated and cannot die of infections from dirt.
Cameroon's ministry of health indicated that the disease quickly spread to Yaounde and Douala, major cities in the central African state. The case reported in Yaounde was of a teenager who traveled to Yaounde from northern Cameroon with his mother. He later died in a hospital, the government reported.
Thomas Tawe, a university student and Yaounde resident, said he fears cholera may spread rapidly in the city because just 30 percent of the population has access to good drinking water.
"In the city of Yaounde, only those who can pay can have water. When you go into the quarters," he said of the neighborhoods, "you see that people are carrying water from unhygienic sources. If the water is contaminated, automatically we will be contaminated."