Relief workers battle cholera outbreak in East Africa
December 18, 1997
The severe intestinal symptoms of cholera can kill a
person within hours
Web posted at: 2:48 p.m. EST (1948 GMT)
NAIROBI, Kenya (CNN) -- Rains fed by El Nino have soaked east
Africa in recent weeks, contributing to the spread of a
cholera outbreak that has claimed lives in Kenya, Uganda, Somalia and Zanzibar, relief workers said.
Cholera spreads quickly and can kill within hours. The
intestinal disease causes severe diarrhea, vomiting, muscular
cramps and dehydration, and is spread by water and food that
have been contaminated by infected feces.
World health officials say the situation in east Africa,
where floodwaters reportedly have washed through latrines in
many areas, is reaching epidemic proportions.
On Thursday, U.N. relief workers in Zanzibar said 68 patients
had been admitted to the island's clinics and hospitals since
Wednesday, bringing the total to 638 hospitalizations in the
last three weeks. Already, 118 have died, officials said.
"It's an epidemic -- it's not yet contained," said Helena
Eversol, project officer with the U.N. Children's Fund
(UNICEF) in Zanzibar.
Uganda's New Vision newspaper reported Thursday that the
disease had claimed 23 lives in Kampala and other parts of
And at least 20 people reportedly have died this week in the
Somali capital of Mogadishu.
In Kenya, health workers on Tuesday said the death toll in
Nairobi's slums had topped 30, and that the disease had
killed 50 people in the eastern coastal areas and more than
two dozen others in western Kenya.
Nairobi slums like this one are breeding grounds for
cholera, because of the poor sanitation conditions
In Nairobi slums, conditions are ripe for cholera to spread.
"Many people can be affected very fast," said Didakus
Okhaimbo of Doctors Without Borders. "Cholera prevails where
the hygienic standards are quite low."
Compounding the problem is a nurse's strike over low wages
that has brought many government hospitals to a standstill.
Kenya's public heath services were once free, but are now
said to be corrupt and in decline. That leaves international
aid workers to deal with the nation's cholera victims.
The country is facing a national election in a week, and the
electorate of 9 million already is blaming the current
government for not dealing effectively with the epidemic.
The East African Standard reported Thursday that the
government had launched "Cholera Hotlines" to help the public
get information about the disease.
Death rate slowing in Zanzibar
Eversol said the only good news in Zanzibar is that the death
rate is slowing, which means treatments are working. Two
task forces have been formed to deal with the issue, she
Officials plan to clear the main public hospital, Mnazi
Mmoja, of cholera cases and concentrate the sick in cholera
Two of these already are operating at a school and a district
health center, Eversol said. They both have water,
electricity and proper sanitation facilities, which is vital
in containing the disease. A third camp is expected to be
available within days.
Zanzibar officials have closed all schools and banned social
gatherings. The sale of water-based drinks and food,
including ice cream, also has been banned.
Nairobi Bureau Chief Catherine Bond and Reuters contributed to this report.