DAKAR (AlertNet) – There has been an upsurge in the number of people infected by cholera in parts of Cameroon including the west-central African country’s largest city of Douala, home to 2.5 million people, children’s charity Plan International has said.
Famari Barro, the Cameroon country director of Plan International says the epidemic worsened in the past weeks as a result of heavy rains, which sweep germs into open wells, contaminating drinking water.
In addition, campaigns ahead of Cameroon’s Oct.9 presidential election led to people crisscrossing the country and big crowds gathering in conditions that helped the spread of the disease.
“The situation had decreased but unfortunately in the past weeks it skyrocketed again in Far North, North and Littoral regions (provinces) of the country,” Barro told AlertNet.
“The case of Douala is disturbing because it is very populated and there are many slums where people don’t have access to clean water,” he said on the phone from Yaounde.
Cameroon’s government-run television channel (CRTV) at the weekend showed pictures of one of the main hospitals in Douala with several patients receiving treatment for cholera.
Doctors at the hospital said many patients were weak and unable to eat food or drink water while some were unable to accept that they were suffering from the disease.
Cholera is caused by contaminated water and food often as a result of poor sanitation. It leads to acute diarrhoea, vomiting, serious dehydration, and in some cases death.
This year the disease has infected more than more than 20,000 people and killed 765 in Cameroon up to Oct.18, Barro said. This includes 3,000 cholera cases and 64 deaths in the Littoral region which the city of Douala is part of.
Cameroon is among the countries that have been hit hardest by a cholera epidemic that has infected some 85,000 people and killed nearly 2,500 in West and Central Africa so far this year, according to the U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF).
Experts say poor water supply networks and a lack of proper sanitation facilities including latrines is helping the spread of the disease.
According to UNICEF only 58 percent of Cameroon’s population in urban areas has access to improved sanitation facilities while the rate in rural areas is 42 percent, and this could go up to 70 percent in the northern regions of the country.
Local health authorities have been working with aid groups including Plan International, to combat cholera outbreaks, which have hit Cameroon since last year.
Plan International has been providing public health information, on radio and through 600 volunteers, to warn people of the dangers of cholera and how to avoid contracting the disease.
“We have also constructed boreholes to improve access to safe drinking water in parts of the country but we must indicate that there is a need for more funding to tackle this epidemic,” Plan’s Barro said.
(Editing by Rebekah Curtis)