Cholera epidemic in western Chad kills 123

More than 120 people have died of cholera in western Chad and nearly 3,000 cases of the water-borne disease have been reported since an epidemic broke out at the start of the rainy season in mid-June, the government told relief agencies this week.

"At yesterday’s coordination meeting, the Chadian authorities said they had recorded 2,895 cases of cholera and 123 deaths throughout the territory," Geneviève Salise, the Cholera Coordinator for Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) Belgium told IRIN by telephone from the Chadian capital N’djamena on Thursday.

The cholera outbreak started in Guitte, a fishing village on Lake Chad on 16 June, but it subsequently spread south to N'djamena, a city of nearly one million people.

Some relief workers had criticised the Chadian government for not acting fast enough to contain the epidemic.

However, last week, it launched massive public awareness campaign in the media and sent social workers to villages in areas affected by the epidemics, Doctor Yao Kassankogno, the World Health Organisation representative in Chad told IRIN.

The government also launched an appeal for international assistance. Justice minister and acting Foreign Minister Kalzeubet Pahimi Deubet told diplomats on Friday that the epidemic had "started to assume worrying proportions."

He appealed for US$2.1 million to fund an action plan based on an estimated 5,000 cases of cholera. The disease causes rapid dehydration of the body through diarrhoea and vomiting and can prove fatal unless treatment is provided quickly.

Salise said MSF Belgium had already helped the governmet set up a second 80-bed cholera treatment centre in N'djamena because the original 64-bed cholera clinic at the city's Liberte hospital had become too congested.

Doctor Kara Abdallah, the coordinator of the cholera unit at Liberte Hospital, complained that people from outside N'djamena were taking too long to come forward to seek treatment, partly because the rains had churned up Chad's dirt roads, making transport slow and difficult.

"We had 35 new admissions yesterday, but we have recorded no deaths for the past five days, and that is encouraging," he said. "However, I fear we are only in the middle of the epidemic, which might last until October, when the rains stop."

Salise at MSF Belgium agreed that the situation appeared to be improving. But she warned that this might simply be because it had not rained in the N'djamena area for several days.

"You get the feeling that there are less cholera cases, since both treatment centres had fewer than 30 admissions today, as opposed to more than 100 some time ago. But this is probably due to the fact that it has not rained for a week. As soon as it starts raining again, I fear, there may be a new surge (in the number of cases)," she said.

Cholera epidemics are caused by poor sanitation and polluted drinking water. They are perennial hazard during the rainy season in much of West Africa as latrines overflow and wells become polluted.

The last major cholera outbreak in Chad occurred in 2001 when a total of 5,244 cases were recorded.

No cholera cases have so far been reported in Eastern Chad where nearly 200,000 refugees from Sudan’s troubled Darfur region are packed into often overcrowded refugee camps with limited supplies of clean drinking water and limited sanitation facilities.