Monday, March 23, 2009

Cholera Oozes Across Africa

March 23, 2009

In the three months since we last visited Africa, cholera has continued its usual seasonal spread across the continent – helped, as always, by lack of access to safe drinking water, limited availability of health care, and an inadequate supply of toilets.

As of March 16th, the death toll in Zimbabwe's long-running cholera epidemic had reached 4,035 and the number of recorded cases surpassed 91,000. But there are signs that the epidemic is starting to abate. The number of new cases has fallen from a peak of nearly 8,000 per week to only 4,000-4,500 per week.

But, while the epidemic is showing early signs of running down in Zimbabwe, outbreaks of cholera have emerged elsewhere in Africa.

Angola reported three cholera cases last Friday, after flooding induced by heavy rains left 33,000 people homeless in the southern part of the country. 

Botswana has confirmed 15 cases of cholera, with an additional 40 cases under investigation, according to a report released last week.

Kenya has been hard-hit recently. The national government issued a cholera alert last Tuesday, while revealing that the disease recently had killed 25 people, and infected 551 in various parts of the country. This is in addition to the 369 cases and 16 deaths reported in February.

Malawi has suffered its worst cholera outbreak in six years, with 4,697 cases and 104 deaths since the start of this year's rainy season in January.

Mozambique reported 30 new cases since the end of February. At least seven victims died.

South Africa has gained control over its cholera outbreak, reporting only 8 new cases per day – down from 200 per day in January. Many of the cases reported in the northern province of South Africa were Zimbabweans who crossed the border into South Africa to gain treatment that was unavailable in their own country.

Zambia reported six new cholera victims, one of whom has died. The outbreak was blamed on unsanitary conditions and unsafe drinking water drawn from Lake Kariba.

The rainy season in southern Africa usually runs from October to April. Once it has passed, the worst of the cholera season will be over for another year.

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