29 December 2011 – The cholera outbreak that has infected thousands of people across the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is almost over in the worst-affected province, but fresh cases are being recorded in two other areas, the United Nations humanitarian arm reports.
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), in a news update released yesterday, said a Government committee in the province of Equateur is set to announce the end of the outbreak there after three weeks with no reports of new cases.
The committee has decided to close a dedicated cholera treatment centre in Mbandaka, the provincial capital, this month and has identified a hospital in the same city to house a treatment unit to deal with other cases.
OCHA warned that despite this progress, 15 zones in the province remain under surveillance from health authorities.
With a reported 165 deaths and 3,045 cases as of last Sunday, Equateur is the province most affected by this year’s outbreak across the DRC, although Bandundu and Eastern provinces and the national capital, Kinshasa, have also been hit.
In Kinshasa, new cases are still being recorded, with an alarming 351 fresh cases and at least 13 deaths in the past three weeks.
OCHA noted that many of Kinshasa’s growing population of over eight million people live in poor hygienic conditions, increasing the likelihood that the disease will spread. The city is also a base for river craft to other provinces affected by the outbreak.
South Kivu, in the country’s far east, has also recorded a rise in the number of cases recently – almost 70 new cases were registered between 19 December and 25 December.
The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has been assisting non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to chlorinate water in the urban areas of Bagira, Ibanda and Kadutu.
In total, at least 575 Congolese have died in the current outbreak and more than 21,500 cases have been recorded. Poor access to clean water and decent sanitation remains the biggest problem in halting the spread of the outbreak.
Cholera is an acute intestinal infection caused by eating food or drinking water contaminated with the bacterium known as vibrio cholerae. The disease has a short incubation period and produces a toxin that causes continuous watery diarrhoea, a condition that can quickly lead to severe dehydration and death if treatment is not administered promptly. Vomiting also occurs in most patients.
The disease remains a global threat and is one of the key indicators of social development, according to the UN World Health Organization (WHO). While cholera no longer poses a threat to countries with high standards of hygiene, it remains a challenge in countries with limited access to safe drinking water and adequate sanitation.