The United Nations Children's Fund says a cholera epidemic in Angola is worsening and more than a third of the victims are children under the age of five.  Official figures put the number of cholera cases at more than 32,000, with nearly 1,200 deaths.

Even in the best of times, Angola has one of the highest under-five mortality rates in the world.  UNICEF reports malaria kills 23 percent of Angola's children every year, followed by diarrheal diseases, which account for 18 percent of child deaths.

UNICEF spokesman Damien Personnaz says the current cholera epidemic is taking an especially heavy toll on children.

"UNICEF has done some preliminary estimates that 35 percent of the cholera victims are children below five years old, which means that basically we have a total number of 11,000 cases of cholera among children below five years old in Angola," he said.

Personnaz says children are particularly vulnerable to dehydration from diarrhea caused by cholera.  He says if it is not treated promptly, they will die within two to three days of getting the disease, whereas, an adult can last four or five days without treatment.

The Angola government reports about 500 new cases every day.  UNICEF says those numbers are expected to rise during the rainy season.  It warns that well over 70,000 people could get infected by then if action to contain the outbreak is not sustained.

The epidemic started in February in the capital, Luanda.  Cholera is largely due to poor sanitation, a shortage of safe drinking water, bad hygiene and overcrowding.  Personnaz says Angola's 27-year-old civil war destroyed the country's water and sanitation facilities.  He says few systems have been rebuilt.  This has led to the rapid spread of the disease throughout the country.

"Now, basically, all the provinces are affected, and it can even cross the borders," he added.  "To this extent, we can fear that the border with neighboring DRC, Congo and Zambia can also be a problem.  So, we do hope that the disease will be contained by then." 

UNICEF, the World Health Organization and private aid agencies such as Doctors Without Borders are working together to come to grips with this crisis.  They have created special areas to isolate sick people so they don't spread the disease to the general public. 

The groups are providing antibiotics, distributing oral rehydration salts and water purification tablets.  They are also mounting information campaigns to teach people how to prevent cholera and what to do if someone gets the disease.