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UNICEF responds to new cholera outbreak claiming lives in Central African Republic

BANGUI, Central African Republic, 5 October 2011 ― UNICEF is taking part in an emergency response to an outbreak of cholera in two prefectures which has so far killed 14 people.  Although the origin of the disease has not been officially identified, it has mainly struck Central African villages along the banks of the Ubangui River some 80 kilometres to the south of the capital, Bangui.

“The location poses particular challenges as the affected region contains some 500 villages spread along the river and in forest clearings,” said UNICEF CAR Representative Tanya Chapuisat, “UNICEF and partners are assisting the government’s health teams with efforts that have to be mobile and flexible to reach populations at risk.”

“We want to ensure that people know to use soap to wash their hands and use other good sanitation methods,” she said. ”We are also working to make sure that the epidemic does not spread to more densely populated centres such as the capital, Bangui.”

Cholera is an acute diarrheal infection caused by the ingestion of food or water contaminated with the bacterium Vibrio cholera. The short incubation period of two hours to five days enhances the potentially explosive pattern of any outbreak. Cholera is extremely virulent and can kill within hours. People with low immune function ― such as malnourished children or people living with HIV ― are at greater risk of death, though up to 80 per cent of people can be treated successfully through prompt administration of oral rehydration salt.

The official declaration of outbreak was delivered on September 30th by the Central African Ministry of Health. A crisis coordination committee is being led by the government and includes UNICEF, WHO, and international NGOs such as Médecins Sans Frontières and Action Contre la Faim.

UNICEF quickly dispatched specialized water and sanitation, health, and communication teams as part of this emergency response and has provided cholera kits, which include vital supplies such as Oral Rehydration Salts, IV fluids and antibiotics, to treat 700 people.

In addition to the involvement of local media, youth groups have been mobilised to go door to door and village to village to distribute flyers that give simple advice about how to stay safe.

UNICEF hopes to reach 60,000 people in the affected regions over the next few days. “As always, children are the most vulnerable in a cholera epidemic” says Ms. Chapuisat. “It is our responsibility to make sure that we do everything possible to ensure that children and families are protected. Because CAR has not had cholera cases in many years, people do not necessarily know what basic measures to take to protect themselves. Getting the information out to the people about how they as individuals and communities can prevent the spread of cholera is critical.”

UNICEF is on the ground in over 150 countries and territories to help children survive and thrive, from early childhood through adolescence.  The world’s largest provider of vaccines for developing countries, UNICEF supports child health and nutrition, good water and sanitation, quality basic education for all boys and girls, and the protection of children from violence, exploitation, and AIDS.  UNICEF is funded entirely by the voluntary contributions of individuals, businesses, foundations and governments. For more information about UNICEF and its work visit: www.unicef.org

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For more information, please contact:
Dennis Christian Larsen, UNICEF Central African Republic
Cell + 236 70 55 02 12

Patrick McCormick, UNICEF New York,
Tel + 1 212 326 7426,




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