DAKAR (AlertNet) – A cholera outbreak that has killed more than 100 people in Chad could worsen this June as the rainy season starts in the Central African country, Oxfam warned on Wednesday.
“We are concerned that the rainy season is arriving and that can provoke a quick and catastrophic rise in the number of cases,” Abakar Mahamat, Oxfam country director for Chad, said in a statement.
Cholera is an acute intestinal infection caused by ingestion of food or water contaminated with bacteria, which causes profuse diarrhoea and vomiting. Infected people can die of profound dehydration, sometimes within a matter of hours, if it is not treated.
Chad’s cholera epidemics usually occur in rainy seasons when houses and latrines flood and contaminated water collects in stagnant pools. Last year, more than 6,800 people were infected and 209 died from the disease, while the country’s August and September floods were the country’s worst in 40 years.
However, cholera has persisted through the dry season in Chad. With nearly 2,700 cases since the start of the year, aid groups worry the disease might become a permanent epidemic in one of the world’s poorest countries that has also suffered meningitis, measles and polio outbreaks.
Chadian health authorities have deployed emergency teams and launched a campaign communicating basic rules on hygiene and sanitation – including regular hand-washing with soap. They have also requested support from the international community to cope with the epidemic.
Aid groups such as Oxfam and Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) have responded to the crisis by providing water, sanitation and health services at local hospitals where cholera treatment centres have been set up, and in parts of the country hit hardest by the disease.
One such cholera treatment centre has been set up next to the Hopital de L’Union, south of the capital N'Djamena. MSF provided the centre with 60 beds. Each bed has a hole in the middle and a bucket underneath to collect patients’ stools.
"Two weeks ago, there was an average of twenty patients per day. Now we are seeing five or six patients a day – we hope the situation is about to stabilise,” said Innocent Hountento, the doctor in charge, under a tent where three patients had been admitted.
Living conditions are poor for many in Chad, which also suffers from regular droughts and hunger crises. Last year 2 million people faced food shortages.
And experts say emergency responses alone would not solve Chad’s growing cholera problem.
“Huge efforts should be made by the Government of Chad to provide water and sanitation services to the population,” Oxfam’s Mahamat said.
The majority of Chad’s population drinks water from traditional, open wells or from temporary or permanent rivers, water that is not safe for drinking due to the risk of various waterborne diseases.
The Chadian government says only 0.6 percent of the country’s households use improved latrines, while 88 percent of people defecate in the open. There is no garbage collection system in villages, while in towns waste water disposal and storm drainage systems are nearly nonexistent.
The government last year appealed for $870 million from donors to fund a seven-year plan to tackle the country’s water and sanitation problems.
Statistics on Chad’s epidemics - Start of 2011 to May 28:
Meningitis: 5712 cases and 255 deaths
Measles : 4657 cases and 43 deaths
Cholera: 2674 cases and 102 deaths
Wild poliovirus: 63 cases and 0 deaths
(Source: Chad’s Ministry of Health)
(Additional reporting by Madjiasra Nako in N'Djamena)