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Suspected cholera devastates families in Somaliland

UNICEF Somalia/2017/Holt
© UNICEF Somalia/2017/Holt
Families displaced by the drought and living in makeshift settlements such as this one in Burao are at greater risk of AWD/cholera.

By Surangani Abeyesekera, Chief of Communication for Development

Burao, Somaliland , 3 July 2017 - The rains that have brought some relief from the prolonged drought in Somaliland, have led to a devastating outbreak of Acute Watery Diarrhoea (AWD)/cholera which has affected thousands of people – a third of them children.

In Burao, one of the largest towns in Somaliland, more than 100 cases are coming in each day to the Cholera Treatment Center (CTC) which has doubled in size.

Mahamed Abdirahman Ali rushed to the CTC with his father, wife and four of his 12 children who all fell sick with diarrhoea and vomiting. Sadly it was too late for three of his children aged two months, three years and six years who all died. One daughter, Najma survived out of the four children who came to the CTC. The family had no idea that the waste water coming from the nearby slaughterhouse was contaminated by bacteria which causes cholera and they should have treated their drinking water with purification tablets known as aquatabs.

“We did not know that we had to treat our drinking water with aquatabs. Now we use them of course but it is too late for three of my children,” said Mohamed Abdi.

Abdi Omar Hirsi, a father of 10 children came to the centre with four of his children and his wife Saynab all suffering from AWD/cholera. One child aged just two days, his son aged four years and a daughter aged 18 months died while his wife and nine year old daughter are recovering.

“When I have aquatabs I use them but otherwise I use the bark of the acacia tree which is how the older generation have always purified our water and we still do this,” says Abdi.

UNICEF Somalia/2017/Abeysekera
© UNICEF Somalia/2017/Abeysekera
UNICEF’s Communication for Development chief with little Najma, whose three siblings died after falling sick with AWD/Cholera.

The Cholera Treatment Centre is run by the Somaliland Red Crescent Society and UNICEF provides some of the supplies required to run the CTC. From the start of the outbreak in Burao in April 2017 the Burao CTC has admitted over 5,200 patients - a third of them children.

Cholera is treatable with intravenous fluids if it is caught quickly. UNICEF Somalia is supporting 71 cholera treatment centres including nine in Somaliland with support from the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department (ECHO) and the Office of US Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA).

This is the first outbreak of AWD/cholera in Somaliland for many years. Thousands of people have moved to Burao and surrounding areas in search of food and water due to the drought and generally the makeshift settlements for the internally displaced do not have latrines. However, with strong advocacy from the Somaliland authorities, UNICEF and other key partners on the ground, landowners have now allowed latrine construction which is being undertaken by UNICEF and partners.



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