MSF continues to fight cholera in Chad's capital city

New infections are at a rate now of 70 people per day. New MSF cholera facilites are already full.
ALT Djerassem Mbaiorem/MSF

Brussels/N'Djamena - The cholera epidemic that started mid June in Chad is still raging, with more than 2,000 people infected, and with over 100 deaths. The new cholera treatment center (CTC) built by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in the capital city, N'Djamena, opened one week ago (August 24) and is already full.

Built in four days, the MSF CTC filled its capacity of 80 patients soon after its opening.

"Treatment is relatively easy if patients are found early enough," explained Stéphane Heymans, MSF Head of Mission for Chad, recently back from N'Djamena. "Patients usually stay two or three days in the Center. We currently have a turnover of some 35 people each day."

The principal objective of building the Center was to take the pressure off the existing facilities, such as the 'Hôpital Liberté' run by the MoH. This hospital has a capacity of 100 patients. At a rate of 70 new cases a day, the situation is extremely worrying in N'Djamena, which numbers around one million inhabitants living in precarious sanitary conditions.

MSF activities at the CTC include consultations and hospitalization. It is staffed by local Ministry of Health (MoH) personnel and run with the help of an MSF team of three expatriates (a medical coordinator, a nurse, and a specialist in water and sanitation). MSF is also providing supplies, such as standard kits for treating cholera. 221 patients have already been treated at the Center and eight of these have died.

One of the main problems with cholera is the stigma linked to the disease.

"The local population is well aware that cholera is due to a lack of hygiene, so, people wait for the last moment to come to our center," said Heymans. "When these patients arrive, the disease is already in a well-advanced stage."

Controlling the spread of the disease is the other essential issue. In addition to treatment, it is crucial to isolate patients and disinfect their houses.

"As soon as a sick person arrives at the CTC, one of our three mobile teams is sent to his home to spray chlorinated water inside the house and on clothes," explained a local MSF nurse. "This should protect the people still living on the premises."

MSF has been working in Chad for 20 years. Part of the organisation's role in the country is supporting the MoH in fighting cholera, meningitis and measles epidemics. The last MSF intervention related to cholera was in 2001. At that time, 5,000 cases were registered.