The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is distributing emergency supplies and has dispatched experts to the Central African Republic (CAR) to deal with an outbreak of cholera that has already claimed 14 lives.
The outbreak is focused on villages along the Ubangui River about 80 kilometres south of Bangui, the capital, according to a press release issued by the agency yesterday.
“The location poses particular challenges as the affected region contains some 500 villages spread along the river and in forest clearings,” said Tanya Chapuisat, UNICEF’s representative in the CAR, adding that officials hope to prevent the outbreak from spreading to Bangui and other densely populated areas.
The agency has sent specialist teams in water and sanitation, health and communications to the CAR and begun handing out cholera kits, which include oral rehydration salts, intravenous fluids and antibiotics.
Ms. Chapuisat said UNICEF aims to reach as many as 60,000 people in the affected region over the next few days.
“It is our responsibility to make sure that we do everything possible to ensure that children and families are protected,” she said.
“Because CAR has not had cholera cases in many years, people do not necessarily know what basic measures to take to protect themselves. Getting the information out to the people about how they as individuals and communities can prevent the spread of cholera is critical.”
Youth groups have been mobilized to travel from village to village giving out flyers containing simple advice about preventive measures.
CAR officials confirmed the outbreak last Friday and have set up a crisis coordination committee with UNICEF, the UN World Health Organization (WHO) and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) such as Médecins Sans Frontières and Action Contre la Faim.
Cholera is an acute intestinal infection caused by eating food or drinking water contaminated with a bacterium. The disease has a short incubation period and produces a toxin that causes continuous watery diarrhoea, a condition that can quickly lead to severe dehydration and death if treatment is not administered promptly. People with low immune function, such as malnourished children or those living with HIV, are at particular risk.