Press Release

Geneva Palais Press briefing: UNICEF warns of cholera catastrophe without action

This is a summary of what was said by Jérôme Pfaffmann Zambruni, UNICEF Public Health Emergency unit head - to whom quoted text may be attributed - at today's press briefing at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.  


NEW YORK (May 19, 2023) – “The current global cholera situation is unprecedented due to the alarming size of the outbreaks, geographic spread, and extraordinarily high rate of deaths. We must increase capacity. This is a wake up call.

  • Twenty-five countries have already declared outbreaks since the beginning of 2023. And we are less than halfway through the year. And according to a new analysis, 22 additional countries worldwide are at risk of declaring cholera outbreaks. 
  • The world saw a steady decline in cholera over the past 10 years. But this trend reversed as 2021 saw an uptick in cases which continued into 2023. As of this month, 24 countries are reporting cholera outbreaks, compared to 15 this time last year. If trends continue, especially as West Africa is now entering the wet season, we may surpass the total annual number of countries fighting outbreaks in 2022 and 2021.
  • This is a disease that nobody should die from. Mortality rates above 1 percent usually signal problems with quality, access, and speed of treatment. Together with outbreaks in many more countries, we are also seeing more people die from cholera than in the past. For example, 3 out of every 100 people infected with the disease in Malawi (since the beginning of the outbreak in March 2022) and Nigeria died (and Nigeria in 2023)

The longer we go without the needed support to control and prevent cholera, the more the disease spreads, and the more the funding needs grow. This is about more than money, this is about communities who need the support

  • In November 2022, UNICEF appealed to donors for $150 million to respond to cholera outbreaks. But support was scarce.
  • Since then, in just six months, the funding appeal swelled by 220% as the situation became more dire. Inaction costs lives, and money.
  • The upsurge of cholera at such an unprecedented scope, scale and severity is an urgent wake-up call for us to act together and act now: to protect those affected by the current outbreaks and invest in underlying WASH and health services. 
  • This situation will worsen. We know that it’s not a matter of if but when. We’re seeing climate change act as a vulnerability multiplier. With the growing number of and intensity of climate shocks and warmer temperatures, there will be more damaged WASH services, contamination of safe water sources, and growing displacement of people. Take, for example, cyclones like Freddy in Mozambique and Malawi, floods in Pakistan and Nigeria last year or the drought in the Horn of Africa, which led to conditions ripe for waterborne diseases. In the aftermath of Cyclone Mocha in Myanmar and Bangladesh, UNICEF is concerned that the risk of waterborne diseases will likely grow in the days ahead.
  • Climate change is also making ‘cholera seasons’ less predictable. Though large parts of the world are currently in ‘low cholera transmission,’ it’s concerning that many are still witnessing outbreaks during a period traditionally marked by minimal or no transmission. We will see even more widespread outbreaks as the world moves into ‘high cholera seasonality’.
  • For the next twelve months, UNICEF urgently needs US$ 480 million for immediate cholera prevention and response interventions in health, WASH/IPC, and RCCE for social and behavior change.

Cholera is a longstanding ‘pandemic of the poor’. It’s unacceptable that little attention and support have been given to the vulnerable people affected by it. 

  • Cholera is a marker of poverty and exclusion. It disproportionately affects poor and vulnerable communities without access to basic services and where health systems are weakest.
  • Cholera is increasingly present in fragile and emergency settings. Since 2019, there have been cholera outbreaks in over half of the countries experiencing humanitarian emergencies
  • Underinvestment in WASH systems is an accurate risk indicator for cholera: 97 percent of cholera cases from 2010-2021 occurred in countries with the world’s lowest water and sanitation services levels. 
  • Without access to safe WASH, preventing and controlling the transmission of cholera and other waterborne diseases is virtually impossible.”

# # # #

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) works in more than 190 countries and territories to pursue a more equitable world for every child. UNICEF has helped save more children’s lives than any other humanitarian organization, by providing health care and immunizations, safe water and sanitation, nutrition, education, emergency relief and more.

UNICEF USA advances the global mission of UNICEF by rallying the American public to support the world’s most vulnerable children. Together, we are working toward a world that upholds the rights of all children and helps every child thrive. For more information, visit

For more information please contact:
Jenna Buraczenski, UNICEF USA, (917) 720-1432,