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Thousands of lives at risk in Chad due to cholera epidemic

By Cheryl Uys-Allie

N’DJAMENA, Chad, 11 August 2011 - Cholera has resurged in Chad affecting more than 7000 people since March 2011, most of whom are the poorest and most vulnerable.

VIDEO: July 2011 - UNICEF correspondent Cheryl Uys-Allie reports on the risks Chad's population is facing due to Cholera epidemic, which is affecting especially vulnerable children since March 2011.  Watch in RealPlayer


“We’ve had two outbreaks of cholera,” explains the regional health supervisor at the hospital in Tandjile, Elie Fokzia. “The first was in October 2010, which lasted one month. The second wave of cholera was detected on 25 March in the same village.”

Emergency workers in the capital, N’Djamena, however, believe that the first outbreak never really disappeared.

© UNICEF video
Vulnerable children are being affected by the cholera epidemic which resurged in Chad since March 2011.

“The epidemic of 2010 never really ended. So the epidemic we have in 2011 is a continuation,” said Jessica Donoyer, Programme Manager for WASH Cholera (Action Contre la Faim), a French non-governmental organization working with UNICEF, the World Health Organization (WHO) and other partner organizations.

Disease of “dirty hands”

In Chad, cholera is called the disease of dirty hands. According to the 2010 Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey, only 52 per cent of people have access to improved drinking water, and only 16 per cent have access to improved sanitation.

The epidemic has reached emergency levels and the government has implemented a task force on disasters and crisis to manage it. But core to solving the crisis in the long term is educating people about safe sanitation practices.

Dr. Elie Fokzia explained that it’s a problem caused by a lack of hygiene. “People here need to have access to clean areas and potable water, and latrines,” he stressed. “The contamination is very quick - even flies can carry the bacteria that causes cholera.”

© UNICEF video
Cholera epidemic has reached emergency levels in Chad and to solve the crisis in a long term it is necessary to educate people about safe sanitation practices.

Regional solution needed

While government and partner agencies are better equipped to deal with the epidemic this time, a regional solution is required. The rapid spread of cholera has to do with the geography and movement of people in the region. 

 “The zones that are sensitive to cholera are the border areas with Cameroon, Niger and Nigeria. It’s the entire cross-border region around the river and Lake Chad,” said Ms. Donoyer. She adds that the lack of development in the area aggravates the situation.

Impact of climate change

Extreme weather patterns such as floods and droughts also contribute to worsening the cholera epidemic. UNICEF Representative in Chad, Marzio Babille, explains that these extreme conditions have changed the ecology of the cholera virus, causing it to multiply and spread a lot faster through water sources.

© UNICEF video
Only half of Chad’s population has access to safe water and less than 20 per cent have access to improved sanitation.

“Cholera therefore presents itself in Central Africa, and particularly in Chad today, as an important public health threat that has to be tackled urgently and immediately,” Mr. Babille emphasised.  

Key interventions needed

UNICEF’s response to the epidemic includes a combination of projects from actively promoting behaviour change via social communication, distribution of life saving prevention and treatment kits in emergency areas, as well as piloting community-led water and sanitation projects.

However, as the rainy season is under way, the concern is that the waterborne disease will spread more rapidly causing the direct displacement of people, destruction of property, increased diseases and increased mortality levels.



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