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At a glance: Sao Tome and Principe

On the beaches of São Tomé , danger in the water

© UNICEF/Kent Page
A 7-year-old cholera survivor, Jordiney, and his mother, Gimé, in Praira Lochinga, São Tomé, a village hit hard by the cholera epidemic.

By Kent Page

PRAIA LOCHINGA, São Tomé and Príncipe, 6 February 2006 – Jordiney’s mother Gimé said her young son felt fine in the morning.

“Jordiney went to school, but when he came home at night he said his stomach was hurting,” Gimé lamented. I had to go to the market and when I came back, he was lying on the ground vomiting, and he had diarrhoea. His eyes had turned white, and I thought he was dying. We had heard a lot about cholera on the radio, so I knew his life was really in danger.”

Gimé is speaking under the cooling shade of a large ‘carroceiro’ tree in the small fishing village of Praia Lochinga, which lies just 25 metres from one of São Tomé’s beautiful beaches. This poor community – made up of tiny 2-room clapboard huts  built closely together on short wooden stilts – divides the turquoise-blue ocean from the runway of the country’s international airport, where well-heeled tourists arrive every week to vacation in the sun. It’s just one of several marginalized coastal and isolated mountain villages in São Tomé that have been hard-hit by the country’s cholera epidemic. Since October 2005, 153 cholera cases have been reported in Praia Lochinga alone, and throughout the country, 2,367 cholera cases and 35 deaths have been confirmed over the same period.

© UNICEF/ HQ97-1189/Giacomo Pirozzi
A 9-year-old boy drinks water running from an outdoor tap into his cupped hands at a water point near the village of Boa Marte on the island of São Tomé.

“Jordiney was so sick and weak, but we were lucky,” said Gimé. “Another child was also sick with cholera in the village and a vehicle was just leaving to take her to the health clinic. They took us with them and we stayed there for 5 days.”

Jordiney, 7, was treated with medicines and given oral rehydration salts dissolved in water until the diarrhoea and vomiting stopped. He lost plenty of weight, but is now feeling stronger.

“I’ve taught my children how to avoid doing things that might make them sick,” Gimé said intently. “Today, I have the cleanest children and the cleanest house in the neighbourhood. I don’t want them to get sick from cholera again!”

© UNICEF/ HQ97-1192/Giacomo Pirozzi
A woman spoon-feeds a solution of oral rehydration salts to her sick grandson – who sits in her lap holding the empty packet – following an oral rehydration therapy demonstration at the Proteccao Materno Infantil health centre in the town of São Tomé.

UNICEF is working closely with the government and development partners to halt São Tomé and Príncipe’s ongoing cholera epidemic, through field interventions targeting vulnerable villages and communities like Praia Lochinga. Practical measures being taken to end the cholera epidemic include: the provision of safe drinking water and improved sanitation facilities; community-based sensitization on personal and collective safe hygiene and sanitation practices; and mass media campaigns to inform communities about cholera prevention, identification and treatment.

“Because of the radio programs, we’re aware of cholera symptoms – and we do what we can to prevent it. But it’s not easy,” says Gimé. “There were no latrines here, so our beach has always been our toilet. But the beach is also where the children play, where we clean our fish and bathe. But now, I store clean water in my house and boil it before we drink or cook. I keep the inside and outside of my house tidy to keep flies away and make sure we wash ourselves with clean water.”

Jonathan Schienberg contributed to this story.



Related links

São Tomé and Príncipe: Containing a cholera outbreak

Common water and sanitation-related diseases

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