The United Nations humanitarian arm warned today that $5.5 million is urgently needed from donors to combat an outbreak of cholera that has infected more than 17,000 people in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
Elisabeth Byrs, a spokesperson for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), said that extra resources are needed to continue the work of both UN aid agencies and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in responding to the outbreak.
Four provinces along the Congo River – Bandundu, Equateur, Kinshasa and Orientale – are the worst affected by the epidemic, but cases have now been reported in eight of the country’s 11 provinces and the rainy season is about to begin.
OCHA said cholera is particularly difficult to tackle in the DRC because of the impoverished country’s persistent water, hygiene and sanitation problems. Many villages and communities do not have access to clean drinking water or to decent toilets, and people are often reluctant to report cases for either social or financial reasons.
The $5.5 million sought will be split between water and sanitation activities and a medical response, with the country’s western provinces the focus of most aid activities.
Cholera is an acute intestinal infection caused by eating food or drinking water contaminated with the bacterium known as vibrio cholerae. 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. Vomiting also occurs in most patients.
The disease remains a global threat and is one of the key indicators of social development, according to WHO. While cholera no longer poses a threat to countries with high standards of hygiene, it remains a challenge in countries with limited access to safe drinking water and adequate sanitation.