Africa records 26,000 cholera cases, 660 deaths in January – WHO

The World Health Organisation Regional Office for Africa in Brazzaville, Congo, has said that 10 African countries have recorded an estimated 26,000 cholera cases and 660 deaths since the beginning of the year to January 29, 2023.

According to the UN body, Africa is witnessing an exponential rise in cholera cases amid a global surge.

It said cases recorded on the continent in the first month of 2023 alone had already risen by more than 30 per cent of the total caseload reached in the whole of 2022.

Cholera is an acute, extremely virulent infection that can spread rapidly, and cause dehydration resulting in high morbidity and mortality.

The cholera outbreaks in Africa are occurring in the context of extreme climatic events, conflicts, ongoing outbreaks of other diseases such as wild poliovirus as well as limited financial resources and a strained health workforce due to the response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a press statement issued on Thursday, WHO said, “An estimated 26,000 cases and 660 deaths have been reported as of January 29, 2023, in 10 African countries facing outbreaks since the beginning of the year.

“In 2022, nearly 80,000 cases and 1,863 deaths were recorded from 15 affected countries. If the current fast-rising trend continues, it could surpass the number of cases recorded in 2021, the worst year for cholera in Africa in nearly a decade. Average case fatality ratio is currently almost at three per cent, above the 2.3 per cent reached in 2022, and far exceeding the acceptable level of below one per cent.”

The organisation noted that the bulk of the new cases and deaths have been recorded in Malawi, which is facing its worst cholera outbreak in two decades.

“Malawi’s neighbours Mozambique and Zambia have also recently reported cases. In East Africa, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia are responding to outbreaks amid a prolonged and harsh drought that has left millions of people in dire need of humanitarian assistance. Burundi, Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Nigeria have also reported cases,” it added.

According to the WHO Regional Director for Africa, Africa is witnessing a worrying scenario where conflict and extreme climatic events are worsening the triggers of cholera and increasing its toll on lives.

“It’s critical for African countries to scale up readiness to quickly detect cases and mount a comprehensive and timely response. We are supporting governments to bolster key control measures to halt these outbreaks as quickly as possible,” she said.

The PUNCH reports that so far this year, around 3.3 million cholera vaccine doses have been delivered to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, and Mozambique—which is to take delivery in the coming days—through the International Coordinating Group on Vaccine Provision.

This initiative aims to manage emergency supplies of vaccines and is a partnership of the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, Médecins sans Fronti ères United Nations Children’s Fund, and WHO.

Meanwhile, WHO said the increase in cholera outbreaks globally had put a huge strain on the availability of vaccines, prompting the International Coordinating Group on Vaccine Provision to temporarily suspend the standard two-dose vaccination regimen in cholera outbreak response campaigns, using instead a single-dose approach. A further surge in cholera outbreaks risks deepening the shortage.

“Every death due to cholera is preventable,” said Dr. Moeti. “This disease is much a health challenge as it is a development one. As such investments in better sanitation and access to safe water formidably complement the public health initiatives to sustainably control and end cholera.”


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