Friday, March 7, 2008

Diseases of Disaster - Another Installment

War and famine aren't the only triggers for outbreaks of diseases such as cholera and dysentery. The People's Daily On-Line reported this morning that 20 Bhutanese refugees in a camp in eastern Nepal are suffering from pneumonia and dysentery. The refugees were forced to leave their homes 320 km east of Kathmandu after a fire destroyed the entire village.

Earlier this week, the International Society for Infectious Diseases posted its regular weekly update of cholera, dysentery and diarrhea outbreaks – five cholera outbreaks (4 in Africa and one in Asia) and one outbreak of watery diarrhea.
  • Katanga, Congo: There were 5483 cases of cholera and 120 deaths in the first seven weeks of 2008. The outbreak is continuing, but the epicenter appears to be shifting.
  • Harare, Zimbabwe: Fourteen cases of cholera have been diagnosed in the last two weeks in and around Harare. Another nine cases, and one death, were reported in the area of Mashonaland Central during February.
  • Mandera Province, Kenya: This area has seen 392 suspected cases of cholera, and has reported 7 deaths from the disease.
  • Belet Hawo, Somalia: The people living in and around this town in southwestern Somalia have experienced 263 cases of "acute watery diarrhea" since the end of January 2008. The outbreak, which has caused 11 deaths so far, may have been triggered by the cholera outbreak just across the border in Mandera Province, Kenya. The spread of the disease is believed to be due to a severe water shortage, which has forced people to drink unsafe water. The district government has responded by chlorinating all of the wells and is warning residents to avoid drinking unchlorinated water.
  • Cunene Province, Angola: Flooding has forced people from their homes in this region, and a cholera outbreak is in progress amongst the displaced population. Five to seven new cases are being reported each day; 82 people have died so far.
  • Mon State, Myanmar: 61 people in eastern Myanmar are suffering from cholera; 2 victims have died so far. The affected village is near the Thai border, and is in an area controlled by the New Mon State Party under a cease-fire agreement with the Myanmar government. Local authorities are asking a Thai government hospital in nearby Sangkhlaburi to provide emergency assistance.

Cholera and dysentery spread rapidly in the absence of safe water for drinking, washing and cooking. Recently, a Swiss company introduced the LifeStraw which, according to the device's developer, can be used to decontaminate water "on the spot". I'll review LifeStraw and other approaches to achieving safe drinking water soon.

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