Cameroon Struggling to Contain Deadly Cholera Outbreak

Cameroonian health authorities say at least 1,300 cholera cases have been detected, with nearly three dozen people dying as a result of the outbreak within the past two weeks. Cameroon’s Public Health Ministry says water shortages and poor hygiene have spread the bacterial disease throughout half the country.

Cameroon says the lives of thousands of its citizens are at risk. Manaouda Malachie, the state minister of public health, said five of the country’s 10 regions have been affected by an ongoing cholera outbreak in a press release published Wednesday. 

The statement says Bakassi, a southwestern peninsula near the Nigerian border, Cameroon’s commercial hub and coastal city Douala, and Cameroon’s capital, Yaounde, are the worst hit by the outbreak. Other locations affected are Buea,Tiko and Mutengene, southwestern commercial towns, as well as Maroua and Garoua on the northern border with Nigeria.

Kelvin Fosong, a community health worker, said he was sent from Buea to Mutengene this week to help civilians affected by the outbreak.

“Since the outbreak, we have engaged ourselves into community sensitization, most especially in the quarters where deaths were reported. We have been there visiting homes, disinfecting toilets, public taps and water points. We teach them (civilians) how to take care of their environment with the help of some doctors (health workers),” Fosong said, speaking from Mutengene.

Cameroon’s public health minister said 32 of the 1,300 people affected by the outbreak have died within two weeks, and added that the figures may be higher. The government reports that about 70% of the country’s 26 million people visit African traditional healers and go to hospitals only when their health conditions get worse. The government says it is difficult to gather statistics from African traditional healers in the country’s towns and villages.

Linda Esso, director of epidemics and pandemics at Cameroon’s Public Health Ministry, said after the first cases were reported, the government started telling people to go to the nearest hospitals if they experience watery diarrhea, vomiting or dehydration. She said civilians should follow basic hygiene practices such as washing their hands with soap, and using and cleaning latrines after defecation.

Esso warned against eating uncooked raw food and unwashed fruits or drinking water that has not been boiled. She said keeping latrines dirty increases the risk of cholera.

Mathias Ngund, the most senior government health official in Buea, an English-speaking southwestern town where 30 cholera cases have been reported with three deaths, said the lack of clean drinking water is exacerbating the spread of cholera in Buea. He said he has informed the government that the provision of water is an emergency need.

“We went to all the houses of suspected cases, we disinfected them and also we have had coordination meetings with the administrative authorities to respond to the outbreak,” Ngund said.

The central government in Yaounde said it will provide clean drinking water to arid towns and villages in Cameroon but did not say when. Authorities are encouraging civilians to boil water from wells and streams before drinking it.

Cameroon said a cholera outbreak in November claimed 13 lives, with several hundred people infected, as it prepared to host the African Football Cup of Nations, or AFCON. Cameroon hosted AFCON from January 9 to February 6. The government had promised to stop its spread before the continental football event that brought several thousand football fans, players and match officials tio the country.

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