Grappling with a cholera epidemic in northern Cameroon

Published: 20 October 2014 15:08 CET

Mirabelle Enaka Kima, IFRC

For many years now, cholera has been a common occurrence in the North and far North Regions of Cameroon. Recurrent floods in this part of the country are the main cause of the resurgence of this and other water-borne diseases.

This year’s outbreak is causing havoc in more than 20 areas. Current government figures mention 2,019 patients, including 99 fatalities, with the locality of Mogodé, in the Far North Region, hardest hit.

Joint action between various humanitarian actors, including the Cameroon Red Cross Society, in collaboration with the Cameroon Ministry of Public Health, led to the implementation of several response activities.

Emergency funds of 370,416 Swiss francs were allocated from the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies’ Disaster Relief Emergency Fund to enable the local Red Cross to assist 36,424 cholera and flood victims in the affected regions.

This includes deploying 438 Red Cross volunteers who are actively raising community awareness on good hygiene and sanitation practices through water purification campaigns, cleaning of gutters and water points, latrines, the environment, and the management of household waste. "Our volunteers focus more on the disinfection of hospitals, public places and homes of infected and deceased cholera victims. We also organize home visits that have led to the identification of dozens of new cases and their referral to hospitals for treatment,” says Richard Lobe, Cameroon Red Cross Society cholera response focal point. "These routine visits are an asset in the carving out of pockets of the epidemic and the reduction in the spreading of the disease. However, only enhanced and continuous community sensitization on hygiene, sanitation and the handling of corpses will better equip people to fight against the disease."  

Assistance provided by the Red Cross to flood victims in the North Region includes the distribution of food and non-food items and support in the construction of new shelters.

Capacity building for 400 volunteers on epidemiological surveillance is an essential activity towards raise awareness on future outbreaks and restricting their spread. "If volunteers are able to identify the signs of various epidemics and understand measures to limit their spread, they will effectively ensure early warnings of outbreaks, identify and isolate affected areas, and organize interventions within a satisfactory time frame," says Dr Alain Roger Kouassi, member of the Regional Disaster Response Team, deployed to provide technical support to field teams.

Despite the efforts of the Red Cross and its partners to control this epidemic, several localities in the Far North Region are still inaccessible due to the poor state of roads and continued insecurity. Consequently, several cholera cases remain unidentified in villages along the border with Nigeria. The risk of spread of the epidemic is increasing and, to date, the population faces a major health challenge that could further deteriorate if the current insecurity persists.