Cameroon: Cholera continues to claim lives

Published: 29 July 2011 9:00 CET

By Moustapha Diallo in Cameroon

In Wobia, a small fishing village in southwest Cameroon,  volunteers from the Cameroon Red Cross teach to kids how to protect themselves from cholera. Within weeks the disease has bereaved several families in this community nestled in a cove overlooking the bay of Limbe. Despite the actions of the Red Cross, the threat is still present.

It’s a deadly threat that has already caused 381 deaths and infected nearly 11,000 people  across the country since the beginning of the year, according to the Ministry of Health.

An endemic disease

Declared in May 2010 in northern Cameroon, the cholera outbreak experienced a temporary lull before reappearing in January 2011. Since then it has spread at a dizzying pace, affecting nine of the ten regions in the country.

In the district hospital in Limbe, about eight patients are hospitalized during an average day. They receive infusions upon their arrival in the health facility; most are already in an advanced stage of dehydration.

"A week ago, was really the rush. We received dozens of patients a day, "said Innocent Meboka, a Red Cross volunteer, deployed in the district hospital.

The spread of cholera and its resistance are facilitated by the extremely precarious conditions in which people live in all affected areas of the country. Most of them have no access to drinking water and inadequate sanitation. Added to this, are cultural issues as in Wobia where houses have no latrines, forcing people to defecate in the bay. This practice favors the transmission of the virus.

The contribution of the Red Cross

With the support of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), the Cameroon Red Cross, is boosting its response against the cholera epidemic.

On the ground, over 300 volunteers are working to contain the disease through the organization of awareness activities on good hygiene and sanitation in all affected regions.

Some volunteers are deployed at health centers. They support the medical staff, clean the rooms, welcome patients and identify their places of residence in order to organize disinfection activities to stop the spread of the epidemic.

"Despite our efforts, the epidemic is still not eradicated, although there has been a decrease in the number of cases registered per week in our areas of operation," says Dr. Christine Hwang, health delegate in the IFRC Regional Office in Yaounde, deployed by the Canadian Red Cross

Insufficient support

On 04 April, the IFRC has launched an emergency appeal for 1.2 million Swiss francs to help the Cameroon Red Cross set up a response plan against the epidemic of cholera. To start the activities 150,000 Swiss francs was released from the IFRC emergency fund but donations to the emergency appeal are needed to ensure the work can continue.

"Less than 10% of funds requested have been received to date, as cholera continues to claim victims in Cameroon," said Denis Duffaut, IFRC regional representative for Central Africa. "We reiterate our appeal to respond not only to the emergency but also to combat the factors that encourage this epidemic "

In Cameroon, many communities have no access to clean water or adequate sanitation, increasing their vulnerability to the disease. The rainy season has begun  which also brings an increased risk of the spread of the virus in some areas. Urgent funds are needed to halt its expansion.

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