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BISSAU, 11 Jul 2005 (IRIN) - A month-old cholera epidemic in Guinea Bissau is getting steadily worse, with 60 to 75 new cases recorded daily at a specialist cholera treatment unit in the main hospital in the capital Bissau, the head of the unit said on Monday.
Doctor Samba Tenem Barri, head of the Simao Mendes hospital's cholera unit, praised the role played by a team of 50 Cuban doctors who arrived in this small West African country at the end of May. About 15 of them are working in the hospital.
The Ministry of Health said in a bulletin on Monday that 1,900 cases of cholera had been recorded since the epidemic began on 11 June.
It said 24 people had died of the highly infectious water-borne disease, which causes acute diarrhoea and vomiting.
The overwhelming majority of cholera cases have ocurred in Bissau, a city of 300,000 people built on low-lying land on the banks of a muddy river estuary.
But the ministry said that 76 cases of cholera had been recorded in rural areas close to the capital, particularly in Biombo region, immediately to the north of Bissau, and Quinara region, across the river Geba to the south of the city.
Tenem Barri said only the most serious cases of cholera were being interned at the specialist treatment unit in Simao Mendes hospital. Other patients were simply given rehydration fluids for a few hours before being sent home. The hospital was receiving between 60 and 75 new cholera patients per day, up from 50 two weeks ago, he noted.
Tenem Barri said each patient sent home was accompanied by a sanitary team which disinfected his or her house.
Portugal has flown in 15 tonnes of specialist drugs and medical equipment to help deal with the epidemic, but Guinea-Bissau has not so far received any other external assistance.
The government has urged people to boil all drinking water and wash their hands before eating and after going to the toilet.
But it has not so far undertaken measures to improve the quality of the water supply in Bissau, where many people rely on wells that have become polluted during the current rainy season.
Agostinho Semedo, the director of Simao Mendes hospital, urged the authorities to stop street vendors selling drinking water in plastic bags, saying much of it came from unsafe sources.
The Ministry of Health has set up a checkpoint near the airport on the only road leading out of Bissau where all vehicle passengers entering and leaving the city are obliged to stop and wash their hands in disinfectant.
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