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Cholera explodes in Mozambique

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Hong Kong - On the eve of his visit to the People's Republic of China, His Excellency Joachim Chissano, President of the Republic of Mozambique, thanked the people of Hong Kong for their support in fighting cholera in his country.

Dr Alexandra Ho, a Hong Kong volunteer with the international humanitarian medical organisation Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), arrived in the town of Beira, Mozambique's second city, on 6 February 1998 to help fight the epdiemic.

The first case of cholera in Beira was reported on 26 January 1998. Four days later, there were 245 cases in Beira alone. In the light of these catastrophic developments, the Government of Mozambique appealed to MSF for emergency assistance. MSF responded by dispatching 7 doctors, nurses and sanitation experts to Beira. MSF's special medical charter containing essential drugs, tents and logistical material to improve the water supply and to address Beira's sanitation problems arrived in the city on 18 February. During the height of the epidemic in Beira in February, MSF sent 11 medical staff, 10 water and sanitation and logisticians/administrators and 1 community health worker to Beira.

Since arriving in Beira, Dr Ho, from Princess Margaret Hospital in Hong Kong, has helped treat Beira's 7,030 cholera patients. "All throughout my university years, I have wanted to work for MSF. Two and a half years into my career as a doctor I was finally able to take a six-month leave of absence from Princess Margaret Hospital to fulfil my dream of working as a doctor in a developing country. It has been a very enriching experience. I feel I have learned a lot and made a difference to the lives of many of the people here. I will remember my time in Mozambique for as long as I live."

Dr Ho will remain in Beira as one of the two doctors in charge of the Cholera Treatment Centre (CTC) until April, by which time the worst of the epidemic will be over, at least in Beira.

"We have not seen the end of the cholera epidemic in Mozambique", says Dr Jose-Luis Fernadez, MSF medical coordinator in Beira. "When you combine this year's unusually heavy rains with the extremely poor sanitary conditions prevalent in this country you are dealing with a time bomb. We expect to see cholera spread north to the cities of Nampula and Tete as well as to the smaller provincial centres. We will therefore maintain medical teams in Mozambique until the epidemic is well and truly over and will continue our work in the areas of water and sanitation as well as in community education to try and limit the size of future outbreaks".

Since November 1997, when MSF's intervention to fight cholera in Mozambique began, MSF has built 4 major CTCs in the cities of Maputo, Beira and Quelimane. Each of these centres has the capacity to treat at least 200 patients. MSF has also opened oral rehydration centres in these 3 cities to treat the less severe cases.

Besides combatting cholera itself MSF has, in coordination with the central and provincial authorities, trained the local health authorities to provide community education to reduce the spread of the epidemic. Since cholera is a water-borne disease, MSF has also put in place water points and chlorination facilities which provide clean drinking water to half of the population of Beira and a quarter of the population of Maputo. MSF is currently setting up water chlorination facilities in Quelimane.