Faced with an alarming wave of cholera that swept across the West Africa sub-region this summer, the United Nations today launched a $3.2 million flash appeal for additional international aid to prevent further spread of the debilitating and sometimes fatal disease stemming from contaminated water and inadequate sanitation.
At the height of the epidemic late this summer, more than 42,000 infected people, and 702 deaths, had been recorded across eight countries – Burkina Faso, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger and Senegal.
"It is essential that we contain this outbreak in the sub-region and assist national health systems to eliminate the epidemic in order to prevent its becoming a chronic problem and spreading to neighbouring countries, including Nigeria, Chad and Cameroon", said Hervé Ludovic de Lys, Director of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) regional office in West Africa.
While the situation in several countries appears to have been brought under control, the sub-region as a whole continues to require increased epidemiological surveillance and prevention support, OCHA added.
Many countries have seen the fatality rate of cholera decrease recently, yet the probability of renewed attacks is still high, particularly in Guinea-Bissau. There is also concern that the outbreaks could spread to other countries in Central Africa within the next few weeks.
Cholera, an acute intestinal infection caused by ingestion of food or water contaminated with the bacterium Vibrio cholerae, causes copious, painless, watery diarrhoea that can quickly lead to severe dehydration and death if treatment is not promptly given. Vomiting also occurs in most patients.
Apart from significant human suffering, the disease disrupts social and economic structures and puts tremendous strain on already precarious national health systems. Seasonal factors, such as the rainy season, contribute to the disease's spread.
Cholera can be prevented, provided adequate controls are in place, but limited resources have hampered support for a more comprehensive and coherent approach at both the local and sub-regional levels.
The $3.2 million appeal seeks to cover epidemiological surveillance and prevention for the next six months. It comprises $158,000 for the Gambia, nearly $1.7 million for Guinea-Bissau, $392,000 for Mali, nearly $228,000 for Mauritania, $238,000 for Sao Tome and Principe and $212,000 for Senegal. The rest will cover monitoring and coordination.
Already this year, the UN World Health Organization (WHO) and the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), working with national and international health partners, provided support at the country and sub-regional level, including through strengthening surveillance activities, public information campaigns, pre-positioning of emergency treatment supplies and chlorination of water supplies.