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UNICEF and partners fight deadly, but preventable, cholera outbreak in Cameroon

© UNICEF Cameroon/2010/Sprigge
A woman and her two grandchildren, who are suffering from symptoms of cholera, in Cameroon's Extreme North province.

NEW YORK, USA, 8 September 2010 – Cameroon is currently experiencing one of its most severe outbreaks of cholera in decades. The epidemic began in May 2010, following the country’s rainy season, and is most prevalent in the country’s Extreme North province. To date, there are some 5,560 reported cases of cholera and 385 deaths, according to the Government of Cameroon.

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Cholera is caused by consuming contaminated water and food and often spreads as a result of poor sanitation and hygiene. According to UNICEF Cameroon, only 5 per cent of people in the Extreme North have access to latrines and less than 30 per cent have access to safe drinking water. 

It is this combination of factors, along with flooding and high population density, that have led to the current outbreak.

‘Eminently treatable’

At the onset of the cholera epidemic, UNICEF worked with other aid agencies and government ministries to distribute medicine, water treatment tablets and other products for disinfection, along with water storage kits that enabled families to store and treat their water at home.

“Cholera is eminently treatable,” said UNICEF Representative in Cameroon Musu Clemens-Hope. “If you get cholera, you treat it with antibiotics, you get rehydration and you will be cured.”

© UNICEF Cameroon/2010/Sprigge
Silak School in Cameroon's Extreme North province, near where the country's recent cholera epidemic began.

According to Ms. Clemens-Hope, the cholera fatality rate in Cameroon is more than 7 per cent, higher than it should be given available treatments. She noted that most of the deaths have occurred in remote areas of the country – people are not getting the required medical attention in time.

New campaign

The challenge for UNICEF, therefore, will be to teach people how to recognize the symptoms of cholera and where to seek treatment quickly.

As children return to school this week, there is concern that the epidemic will spread. So to reach the most vulnerable – children and their communities in the northern provinces – UNICEF launched a new public information campaign known as ‘My School Without Cholera.’

In partnership with the Government of Cameroon, UNICEF is going to schools to teach children the essential practices needed to avoid contracting cholera: handwashing with soap; drinking safe, potable water; using latrines and washing and cooking food properly.

UNICEF anticipates reaching over 1.5 million school children in over 3,600 schools across the northern part of Cameroon through television and radio ads, posters and school exercise books. Text message alerts will also provided by local mobile phone companies.

Public-private partnership

Ms. Clemens-Hope said she is pleased with the collaboration between public and private entities, noting that the partnership “shows the potential power of the private sector to engage and to support development, and to support emergencies.”

“I think it’s an untapped resource here in Cameroon,” she added, referring to the collaboration.

In addition to the information campaign, UNICEF Cameroon will be employing an emergency Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) specialist who will be based in Maroua, in the Extreme North province, to help regional officials put in place a cholera prevention plan.




8 September 2010:  UNICEF Cameroon Representative Ms. Musu Clemens-Hope speaks with UNICEF Radio about the outbreak of cholera in Northern Cameroon.
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