Myanmar: Diarrhea outbreak raises fears of cholera

Report
from The Irrawaddy
Published on 23 Apr 2009 View Original
By WAI MOE

The diarrhea epidemic that has plagued Rangoon's North Okkalapa Township recently has not abated, raising concerns about an outbreak of cholera, said sources in the former Burmese capital.

Government and NGO health officials are maintaining a 24-hour emergency response center in the northern township after more than 100 residents were admitted into local hospitals suffering from severe diarrhea within the last week.

A physician who runs a private clinic in North Okkalapa told The Irrawaddy on Thursday that he had sent more than a dozen patients with diarrhea to the response center.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, the doctor said, "As far as I know, some patients have been diagnosed with cholera."

However, no other medical sources have confirmed cases of cholera in North Okkalapa Township.

Cholera is an acute, diarrheal illness caused by infection of the intestine with the bacterium Vibrio cholerae, often carried in human waste. If raw sewage mixes with a local water supply, contamination can occur quickly and is often fatal. Those infected with the cholera virus will suffer severe diarrhea.

Residents in the northern Rangoon suburb said that a high-ranking general, Lt-Gen Myint Swe, who is the chief of the Bureau of Special Operations 5, visited the township on Thursday.

Outbreaks of diarrhea have also been reported in South and North Dagon Myothit, Thaketa, Dawbon and Thanlyin townships in Rangoon Division.

Local residents claimed that some deaths have occurred; however, officials at the Ministry of Health-as well as several hospitals in Rangoon, including the North Okkalapa General Hospital-declined to comment on the issue.

Although hospitals have refused to provide information about the diarrhea epidemic to the media, medical sources said that the Ministry of Health has organized health education talks for communities in affected townships in response to the crisis.

A journalist in Rangoon who has been following the situation told The Irrawaddy on Thursday that health workers treating the diarrhea epidemic said they are facing shortages of necessary drugs as the number of infected people rises.

No official statement has been made to date regarding the outbreak.