Angola: UN health agency sends in more international experts as cholera toll rises

18 May 2006
Health officials in Cacimba, Angola

As Angola’s worst cholera outbreak in almost two decades continues to rage on with 546 new cases and 31 deaths reported in the last 24 hours alone, the United Nations has sent six international experts to reinforce the national team in coordination, water and sanitation, logistics and epidemiological surveillance.

With cases now numbering 35,775 and deaths 1,298, a fatality rate of 4 per cent, since the outbreak began in February, the UN World Health Organization (WHO), together with the Angolan Ministry of Health and other partners continue to develop field activities to control the outbreak.

These include daily coordination meetings, house to house visits for following up contacts, disinfestations, collection of specimen for bacteriological laboratory examination, distribution of safe drinking water and chlorine and dissemination of preventive measures through local media and social mobilization groups.

About 35 per cent of victims are children under five. Even at the best of times, Angola faces one of the highest under-five mortality rates in the world as the southern African country struggles to rebound from a devastating civil war that ended in 2002 after destroying much of its infrastructure over the previous 27 years.

The outbreak and quick spread of the epidemic is largely due to poor sanitation and a shortage of safe drinking water in the overcrowded slums of Luanda, the capital, a legacy of the war. Only 50 per cent of Angolans have access to safe water.

Cholera, an acute intestinal disease 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, including rehydration, is not given promptly.

The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has already distributed at least 527,300 sachets of Oral Rehydration Salts (ORS) and more than 2,000,000 water purification tablets. Water treated with UNICEF’s support has been trucked into Luanda, providing a safe supply for 1 million people.

 

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