DRC: cholera spreading rapidly

MSF has sent additional staff and medical materials to the southern part of the Democratic Republic Congo (DRC). Over the past weeks teams already there have seen cholera spreading rapidly over the region. The provinces of Katanga and Kasai are heavily affected. To curb the epidemic MSF is sending more staff (nurse and an expert in water and sanitation) as well as supplies (rehydration material, sanitary and medical equipment) to East Kasai. Transport will be organised by plane from Kinshasa and by train from Lubumbashi. In the beginning of October a total of 25,000 cholera cases had been counted in Katanga since the first outbreak in September 2001. During the first half of October 2002, 204 cases were counted just in the cholera treatment centres (CTC) that are managed or monitored by MSF. But now the disease seems to be spreading into neighbouring provinces as well. More cholera in neighbouring provinces "In Mbuji Mayi, East Kasai Province, the situation is worse than expected," Luc Nicolas, operational coordinator for MSF, says. "Our teams discovered cholera cases in at least five different locations, even at 75 kilometer from Mbuji Mayi. Until now a total of 172 cases have been admitted to the five CTCs in Bakamba, Chilunde, Kamaleka, Dipumba and Kabengele." Not only a lack of sufficient access to health care and food are the main reasons for the cholera outbreaks. Hygiene is also very problematic. The majority of villages in East Kasai with cholera cases are involved in diamond mining. The waste water of this industry goes directly into the river Lubilanji that is used for drinking water by the population. The epidemic is spreading along the river, from the south to the north, because of the tradition of putting corpses into the river. "Our teams will organise an awareness campaign to educate the local population in the region on the basic principles of hygiene promotion, how they can treat the water for drinking purposes, how cholera is transmitted and how they can protect themselves against infection." Luc Nicolas continues. "This way we hope to curb the spread of the disease. Improving access to safe drinking water by providing protected wells is another possibility."