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UNICEF fights “one of the worst ever” cholera outbreaks in West and Central Africa

DAKAR/GENEVA, 11 October 2011 – UNICEF is calling for a redoubling of efforts to combat cholera outbreaks that are claiming lives and affecting large numbers of people across West and Central Africa.

This year has seen more than 85,000 reported cases of cholera, resulting in 2,466 deaths. The size and scale of the outbreaks mean the region is facing one of the biggest epidemics in its history. In addition Case Fatality Rates (CFR) are unacceptably high,  ranging from 2.3 per cent to 4.7 per cent and can reach much higher levels at district level in many countries (ranging from 1 per cent to 22 per cent in Cameroon for example). Children are more vulnerable to cholera, as they dehydrate faster, and malnourished children are especially at risk.

The most significant increases in 2011 are in Chad, Cameroon and in western Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). In addition there are still challenges with getting access, ensuring staff presence in medical facilities and establishing surveillance systems to monitor cases and numbers in parts of North-East DRC.

There are three major cross border cholera epidemic outbreaks in West and Central Africa: the Lake Chad Basin (Chad, Cameroon, Nigeria and Niger), the West Congo Basin (DRC, Congo and the Central African Republic) and Lake Tanganyika (DRC and Burundi). Smaller cholera epidemics in Benin, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea, Liberia, and Togo are under control.

UNICEF is providing treatment kits, conducting community awareness campaigns on hygiene and assisting with epidemiological surveys to ensure better targeting of control efforts. It is clear in this emergency that authorities can play a key role to save lives. Information exchange between cross- border districts on caseloads and population movements, as well as cross-border inspections for disinfection and chlorination are proven ways to contain the disease and save lives.

UNICEF calls upon governments to coordinate the preparation and response not only within their borders, but to ensure close collaboration with neighbouring countries. Cross-border coordination has to be encouraged at all levels, from the district to the national level.

A cross-border epidemiological study covering the Lake Chad Basin (Cameroon, Chad, Nigeria and Niger) was initiated by UNICEF in 2010, and is now in its second phase. The study provides critical evidence for informing cholera prevention and response interventions, which have to be coordinated across borders. Cross-border coordination between teams in Kinshasa and Brazzaville has also been initiated for the more recent cholera outbreak in the West Congo Basin.

Cholera is known as a disease that affects the poor because of the lack of access to clean water and improved sanitation. The best preventive measure against cholera is access to improved water supply, basic sanitation and hygiene.

Note to Editors
Access rates to water and sanitation in West and Central Africa are among the lowest in the world. Out of 24 countries in the region, not a single one is on track to meet the MDG target for sanitation. This is the underlying cause for cholera outbreaks in West and Central Africa. Although measures for cholera response can help contain the spread of the disease and reduce the number of fatalities, it would be much more effective if the underlying cause of this 'poor man's disease' is tackled.

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: https://www.unicef.org/

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For more information, please contact:
UNICEF in West and Central Africa: Martin Dawes,
Tel + 221 775 69 19 26

UNICEF Geneva: Marixie Mercado,
Tel + 4179 756 7703




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