Urgent Action Under Way to Prevent Spread of Cholera in West Africa

FILE - A cholera patient lies in a treatment centre run by Medecins Sans Frontieres on Macauley Street in Sierra Leone's capital Freetown, Aug. 2012.

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GENEVA — An emergency vaccination campaign is getting underway in northeastern Nigeria to prevent a deadly cholera outbreak from spreading to other countries.

The World Health Organization reports the potentially devastating cholera situation is emerging in Borno State in northeastern Nigeria. During the past few months, it says 2,600 suspected cases of this fatal disease, including 48 deaths, have occurred in this former stronghold of Boko Haram. The militant group has been waging war to establish an Islamic state in northeast Nigeria.

Dominique Legros is cholera coordinator for WHO’s department for pandemic and epidemic diseases. He says the outbreak, which is centered in camps for internally displaced people, is spreading to other areas of northeastern Nigeria, toward Chad and northern Cameroon.




He says 900,000 people in the state will receive the oral cholera vaccine to quickly contain the spread of the disease.

“Once it is out of the box, once it has spread, it is very, very difficult to contain and we have a huge number of cases and deaths,” he said. “So, this outbreak in Nigeria, hopefully, will not reach Chad, because in Chad already, we have an alert in the eastern part of the country towards the border with Sudan, 344 cases, 49 deaths.”

Legros says this comes to a 14 percent case fatality. He notes this is very high for a cholera outbreak, which usually has a case fatality rate of less than one percent.

WHO estimates the global cholera disease burden at around 2.9 million suspected cases, including 95,000 deaths. It reports Yemen has the world’s worst cholera epidemic, with nearly 690,000 suspected cases and more than 2,000 deaths.

The agency expressed concern about the situation in Africa, where it reports tens of thousands of suspected cases and thousands of deaths in, among others; Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, and Tanzania.