A new report by the World Health Organisation, WHO has revealed that an estimated 26,000 cases and 660 deaths have been reported as of 29 January 2023 in ten African countries facing outbreaks since the beginning of the year.
WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti, disclosed this in a press conference Thursday, led by Dr Patrick Otim, health emergency officer, Acute Events Management Unit.
Cholera is an acute, extremely virulent infection that can spread rapidly and dehydration resulting in high morbidity and mortality. However, the disease is easily treatable. Most people can be treated successfully through prompt administration of oral rehydration solution or intravenous fluids.
According to Moeti, Malawi, which is experiencing its worst cholera outbreak in two decades, has seen the majority of the new cases and fatalities. Mozambique and Zambia, two of Malawi’s neighbours, have both recently recorded cases. In East Africa, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia are battling breakouts in the midst of a severe and protracted drought that has left millions of people in desperate need of aid. Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Burundi, Cameroon, and Cameroon have all recorded cases.
“We are witnessing a worrying scenario where conflict and extreme climatic events are worsening the triggers of cholera and increasing its toll on lives. It’s critical for African countries to scale up readiness to quickly detect cases and mount comprehensive and timely response. “We are supporting governments to bolster key control measures to halt these outbreaks as quickly as possible,” said Moeti.
The increase in cholera outbreaks globally has put a huge strain on the availability of vaccines, prompting the International Coordinating Group on Vaccine Provision to temporarily suspend the standard two-dose vaccination regimen in cholera outbreak response campaigns, using instead a single-dose approach. A further surge in cholera outbreak risks is deepening the shortage.
“Every death due to cholera is preventable. This disease is much a health challenge as it is a development one. As such investments in better sanitation and access to safe water formidably complement the public health initiatives to sustainably control and end cholera,” she stated.
Moeti noted that enhanced Health Effective control relies on implementing comprehensive measures including enhanced epidemiological and laboratory surveillance to detect, confirm and quickly respond to outbreaks, improving access to treatment, vaccines, safe water and basic sanitation as well as effecting behavioural change and better hygiene practices among communities.
WHO is working with countries to ramp up disease surveillance, prevention and treatment measures, community engagement, as well as multi-sectoral coordination with partners and agencies to improve sanitation and provide safe water. The agency has deployed 65 experts to five African countries, including 40 to Malawi. In addition, she disclosed that WHO has also disbursed US$ 6 million to kick-start emergency cholera response in Kenya, Malawi and Mozambique.
So far this year, around 3.3 million cholera vaccine doses have been delivered to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya and Mozambique—which is to take delivery in the coming days—through the International Coordinating Group on Vaccine Provision. This initiative aims to manage emergency supplies of vaccines and is a partnership of the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, Médecins sans Frontières United Nations Children’s Fund and WHO.