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Papua New Guinea: Oxfam - Cholera hurting the most vulnerable in East Sepik

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International aid agency Oxfam has called for greater support for the hundreds of people affected by a cholera outbreak in East Sepik Province in Papua New Guinea.

Oxfam's Sepik Program Manager Andrew Rankin said local health authorities are now reporting over 335 cholera cases in the Province. This is an increase of more than 50 cases in the past week, and includes a number of new cases in the provincial capital of Wewak.

"People affected by the cholera outbreak need immediate help. They also need broader support to ensure that they aren't discriminated against and can continue to work and earn money to be able to buy essentials like food and soap," Mr Rankin said.

"People here rely on the Sepik River for drinking and washing water, for income from their fishing, and for preparing sago to eat. Water samples tested by the WHO have confirmed that cholera is present in various locations along the lower Sepik River. This is a major concern for communities - for their health, and also for the potential it has to affect their livelihoods," Mr Rankin said.

"There is currently a lot of fear in communities in the Sepik about the outbreak, including in the provincial capital of Wewak. It's important that these communities get immediate help to deal with the outbreak.

"It's also important that local communication and trade links remain open between affected communities and other parts of the province so that life can remain as normal as possible. If communities become isolated due to fear and stigma this will hurt vulnerable people the most," Mr Rankin said.

"All communities in the Sepik need to have clear information about how to prevent the spread of cholera, both to help contain the outbreak and to ensure that any wrong or confusing community assumptions about the spread of cholera are dispelled."

The best way for people in the Sepik to prevent the spread of cholera is to follow the five-F's or facts, which are:

- boiling of water for 5 minutes;

- eating properly cooked food only and avoid cooked food from open markets;

- washing hands with soap or ash (for at least 20 seconds) after visiting the toilet and before handling food;

- covering foods from flies and;

- using pit latrines or covering the faeces with sand or soil.

Oxfam is currently working to help people affected by the cholera outbreak by distributing emergency hygiene kits, helping them access clean water, and providing information about public hygiene.

"There is a need for more support to ensure that this cholera outbreak doesn't spread further," Mr Rankin said.

"Oxfam continues to work closely with other agencies and local health authorities to try to contain the outbreak. But cholera does spread quickly, and the challenges involved in reaching remote communities mean we need all stakeholders - local and national governments, donors and other agencies - to focus their efforts on tackling the outbreak quickly and ensuring people here get the support they need."