West African cholera claims more than 500 lives, more deaths feared

Thursday, September 1, 2005

Mural in West Africa depicting the effects of cholera.

An outbreak of cholera in West Africa has resulted in the deaths of more than 500 people, and United Nations (UN) health officials are concerned that inadequate health services in the region could result in many more deaths.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said on Thursday that over 31,250 cases of cholera have been reported so far this year in nine West African countries. It has claimed 488 lives at this point. "If we look at this year's trends, the figures are still going up in many countries," said John Mulangu, a senior regional advisor for the WHO. "If cholera is not brought under control in certain regions, we will soon be talking of... 100,000 cases," he said. "And hospitals and health centres will be overwhelmed. Last year we were not on this scale. The problem is getting worse," Mulangu said.

The UN says that the increase could also be related to the fact that due to poverty, many West Africans move around, sometimes out of the country, in order to receive higher wages for their work, and the region has been hit with heavy rains. This helps spread the disease, according to the UN.

"We are about to enter the harvest season where people will be moving around," said Herve Ludovic de Lys, the head of OCHA's West Africa office. "The main goal is to halt the transmission of this disease," he said. "It's not business as usual. This crisis needs a rapid response."

The following West African nations have all been hit by cholera epidemics: Burkina Faso, Cote d'Ivoire, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Mauritania, Mali, Niger, and Senegal. The WHO issued a statement on Thursday that more countries were at risk. "Outbreaks are likely to spread to Central Africa - Nigeria, Cameroon and Chad - in the next weeks," it said.