As cholera case rates decline in Guinea and Sierra Leone, they are on the rise in Guinea-Bissau, with 1,500 cases reported and nine deaths as of 11 November, according to the Ministry of Health.
Adelino Gomes, a doctor in charge of cholera treatment at the Simão Mendes national hospital in the capital Bissau, says he has treated 500 cases in recent weeks and believes the epidemic may not yet have reached its peak.
Guinea-Bissau’s low-lying capital with its minimal to non-existent water and sanitation facilities makes it an ideal breeding ground for cholera.
François Bellet, a water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) specialist with the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in West Africa, says the strain was probably passed on from fishermen in Sierra Leone and Guinea, though this has not yet been confirmed.
The outbreak has spread across seven of Guinea-Bissau’s nine administrative areas, according to the Ministry of Health.
Simão Mendes is short on medicines to help victims, said Gomes, adding that Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is helping to treat patients. UNICEF and the World Health Organization are also supporting treatment, as well as helping detect cases and giving public hygiene messages to prevent the spread.
The government spends 6 percent of its budget on water and sanitation, according to the Finance Ministry. WASH facilities are “catastrophic” said one aid worker, but prevention at the household level has improved incrementally since 2009, said Bellet.
A 2008 cholera epidemic in Guinea-Bissau affected 14,222 people and killed 225, according to MSF research wing Epicentre.