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UN Agencies Warn that Cholera Epidemic Is Spreading in West Africa

Fatality Rate Especially High in Some Countries

NEW YORK (September 5, 2012) — The World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF are warning that the current cholera emergency in West Africa is set to get much worse as rains and floods create the conditions for the disease to spread faster and further.

Already this year a total of 55,289 cases of cholera have been reported in 15 countries and just over 1,109 people have died. The disease is spreading fast in the countries of the Mano River Basin (Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone) as well as along the river Congo (affecting people in both the republic of Congo and the Democratic Republic of Congo), and in western Niger.

The number of new cholera cases has been made worse this year in some of the most affected countries by exceptionally heavy rains that have flooded shanty towns in some urban centers.

The number of cases so far this year in West and Central Africa is 34% higher compared to the same period in 2011 and represents a deteriorating trend as many more can be expected in the rainy season. In the region fatality rates can range up to 8%, which is unacceptably high.

“Urgent action needs to be taken in critical areas to help stop the spread of this disease,” said WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr. Luis Sambo. “Governments need to declare emergency early so as to benefit from the necessary technical and other support of partners. Just as crucial are better surveillance and cross-border collaboration between health authorities.”

Cholera is a disease caused by poor sanitation and can be contracted by eating or drinking contaminated food or liquids. Poor health services mean that treatment may be late or inadequate. The disease is often associated with the poorest and most vulnerable, as they are the least likely to have access to latrines or a supply of clean water. WHO teams in the affected countries are working with the governments to ensure an effective response, while UNICEF is supplying equipment, chlorine and medicine.

“Public health measures must become much more of a priority for governments,” said Manuel Fontaine, the Acting UNICEF Director for West and Central Africa. “We are now seeing children and their families falling prey to a disease that is avoidable. WHO, governments and agencies such as ourselves are mounting an emergency response. But we need to see investment so that when a mother gives a child a drink she doesn’t wonder if it will kill.”

About UNICEF

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) works in 190 countries and territories to save and improve children’s lives, providing health care and immunizations, clean water and sanitation, nutrition, education, emergency reliefand more. The U.S. Fund for UNICEF supports UNICEF's work through fundraising, advocacy and education in the United States. Together, we are working toward the day when zero children die from preventable causes and every child has a safe and healthy childhood. For more information, visit www.unicefusa.org.

About WHO

WHO is the directing and coordinating authority on international health within the United Nations system. With people working in over 147 countries, WHO is responsible for providing leadership on global health matters, shaping the health research agenda, setting norms and standards, articulating evidence-based policy options, providing technical support to countries and monitoring and assessing health trends. In addition to medical doctors, public health specialists, scientists and epidemiologists, WHO staff include people trained to manage administrative, financial, and information systems, as well as experts in the fields of health statistics, economics and emergency relief, working together to ensure better health for all. For more information, please visit: www.who.int


For additional information, please contact:

Susannah Masur, U.S. Fund for UNICEF, 212.880.9146, smasur@unicefusa.org
Kiní Schoop, U.S. Fund for UNICEF, 212.922.2634, kschoop@unicefusa.org

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