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Cholera outbreaks 'one of the worst ever'

Xinhua | Updated: 2011-10-12 09:52

UNITED NATIONS - The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) on Tuesday called for an urgent increase in the efforts to combat what the UN agency described as "one of the worst ever" cholera outbreaks affecting large numbers of people across central and West Africa.

In a news release issued here, UNICEF urged governments to coordinate their preparation and response measures not only within their borders but also with neighboring countries to prevent the spread of the disease.

"It is clear in this emergency that authorities can play a key role to save lives. Information exchange between cross-border districts on caseloads and population movements, as well as cross- border inspections for disinfection and chlorination are proven ways to contain the disease and save lives," the agency said.

This year the region has had more than 85,000 reported cholera cases, resulting in 2,466 deaths, which make it one of the biggest epidemics in the region's history, the agency noted.

In addition, fatality rates remain unacceptably high, ranging from 2.3 percent to 4.7 percent and reaching much higher levels in countries such as Cameroon.  

There are currently three major cross-border epidemic outbreaks in the region: the Lake Chad Basin which includes Chad, Cameroon, Nigeria and Niger; the West Congo Basin comprising the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the Republic of Congo and the Central African Republic (CAR); and Lake Tanganyika, which includes the DRC and Burundi.

The most significant increases in the number of cases, however, are concentrated in Chad, Cameroon and the DRC.

Smaller cholera epidemics in Benin, Cote d'Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea, Liberia, and Togo are reportedly under control.

UNICEF has been providing treatment kits, conducting awareness campaigns and assisting with surveys to ensure that efforts are effectively targeting those who need assistance.

Last week, the agency sent health and sanitation experts to the CAR after the government confirmed an outbreak and it said it was expecting to reach 60,000 people in a few days.

Access rates to water and sanitation in West and Central Africa are among the lowest in the world, making it extremely vulnerable to cholera outbreaks since the disease is caused by eating food or drinking water contaminated with a bacterium, the agency said.

Although response measures can help contain its spread, the most effective way of fighting the disease is to tackle its cause by ensuring access to clean water and raising awareness of the importance of sanitation and hygiene standards.  

Since its creation in 1946, UNICEF has evolved from an emergency fund to a developing agency, committed to protecting the rights of every child to survival, protection and development. Its work is guided by the Convention on the Rights of the Child -- the most widely accepted human rights treaty in the world.

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