While the world is focused on the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, cholera has sickened more than 7,000 in Ghana’s capital, Accra, since breaking out this summer. Fifty-seven victims have died.
Simpson Boateng, director of public health for the Accra Metropolitan Assembly, said the outbreak was traceable to the cooking of food in the unsanitary conditions of the city's slums. Overflowing gutters and fetid, open sewers are common across the capital.
But "cholera doesn't have any boundaries," he noted. People bought food prepared in the street, then moved to other parts of the capital, and "before we realized, it had spread all over the city."
From the 1970s onward, cholera outbreaks have happened intermittently in Accra. Boateng said outbreaks now happen every other year amid the city’s increasingly dire conditions.
“It’s worsened because of the influx of people from all over the country into Accra," he said. "Accra is the capital city of the country, and everybody is trying to come here to look for nonexistent jobs. And they end up congregating in the slum areas with their attendant problems.”
Boateng said the city has been trying to curb this outbreak and prevent others by enforcing sanitation laws, taking offenders to court and cleaning up slums.
The assembly recently ordered the destruction of the Mensah Guinea slum near the city’s center, despite protests by residents who said they were not given adequate notice about the move. Boateng denied the allegations, adding that destruction of such informal settlements was the best way to fight cholera.
“For as long as such areas exist in the country, no matter how clean you keep the city, there will still be problems,” he said.
The rest of Ghana has not been spared from the disease. Cholera cases have been reported northwest of the capital in Kumasi, as well as in the Upper East Region in the far northern part of the country.