DAKAR (AlertNet) - A cholera outbreak in Chad has rapidly worsened since the onset of the rainy season in the central African nation, aid agencies said.
Although a government emergency plan exists, and several aid agencies are offering technical assistance to local authorities, the outbreak is not yet under control.
Cholera is an acute intestinal infection spread through contaminated food and water. It is easy to treat, but many can die if a community is unprepared for a major outbreak.
Here is an overview of the situation and current response to the crisis.
The rainy season is here – how has this affected the cholera outbreak?
The number of cholera cases has more than doubled since the start of the rainy season in June. As of mid-July, 6,491 cases had been reported - up from 2,674 at the start of June.
The U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and other agencies predicted several months ago that the cholera outbreak would worsen with the start of the rainy season.
Cholera outbreaks often occur in Chad – is there any particular concern this year?
Yes, because this year’s cholera outbreak started nine weeks before the outbreak in 2010, and for the first time there have been cases reported in the Salamat region in eastern Chad. This means the outbreak may also spread to central parts of the country.
Urban areas have seen a sharp rise in the number of cases of the waterborne disease - a sign of poor sanitation and hygiene, and a shortage of safe drinking water.
Only 0.6 percent of households across the country use proper latrines, while 88 percent defecate in the open, according to the government. There is no garbage collection system in villages and waste water disposal is almost non-existent in most towns.
The World Health Organisation says the hygienic disposal of human faeces, an adequate supply of safe drinking water and good food hygiene are essential to prevent outbreaks.
The cholera outbreak has persisted throughout the year even during the dry season - why is this the case?
Many communities depend on contaminated water from rivers and ponds throughout the year. And the movement of people across borders has kept up the spread of cholera even through the dry season.
Is this outbreak connected to the situation in Cameroon and Nigeria and is there an inter-country plan to stop it?
The pattern of the outbreak has been similar in Cameroon, Nigeria and Chad, which share river basins and have a constant flow of people across their shared borders. There is also evidence of people with suspected cases crossing the border in search of free treatment that is available in Chad but not in neighbouring countries.
There is no inter-governmental plan at the national level, but local health authorities are collaborating across the borders.
Who is doing what?
UNICEF has given medical supplies to the Chadian ministry of health and to aid groups responding to the outbreak. The agency is also helping to disinfect public places in the capital N’Djamena and spread public health messages on hygiene and sanitation.
Medical charities - Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) France, MSF Holland, MSF Switzerland and Medecins du Monde - are treating patients at government-run cholera centres.
Other aid groups, including Action Against Hunger (ACF) and Oxfam are running water and sanitation projects in various communities. The Chadian Red Cross and the France-based charity Secours Islamique are visiting people’s homes in the worst-affected areas of the capital, offering advice on how to prevent the disease from spreading.
Source: Facts from UNICEF in Chad