Cholera is an acute intestinal infection caused by the bacterium Vibrio cholerae. The incubation period ranges between one and five days. The main symptoms are watery diarrhoea and vomiting. This leads to severe dehydration and a rapid death if not treated promptly. The bacterium is carried in human faeces and can be transmitted by water, some foodstuff and more rarely from person to person. In other words, people eating contaminated food or drinking contaminated water get infected. They can, in turn, further the cycle through bad personal hygiene and faeces disposal.
Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has been intervening in a cholera outbreak in Congo-Brazzaville since January 2007. The first cases of cholera were detected in the coastal city of Point Noire, a major port and region for oil production. There have been over 4,000 cases of cholera and 52 deaths reported in Pointe Noire.
MSF is currently supporting four Ministry of Health (MoH) structures selected for the treatment of cholera patients. This includes reinforcing an infrastructure designated as an isolation area for cholera patients, providing medicines and medical supervision for treating patients and providing water/sanitation expertise and materials.
In Brazzaville, the capital city, cholera was confirmed by the Ministry of Health at the end of January. The numbers of new cases have been relatively low but steady. As of February 12, there were 189 cases and three deaths reported.
A main 60 bed cholera treatment centre is being built within a hospital compound in the city. MSF works alongside the MoH staff and some local Red Cross volunteers to provide medical treatment to the patients. MSF also supports two outlying smaller treatment centres in the Makalekele and Talengai hospitals. There are currently 12 expatriates and 55 staff working on the outbreak.
Since January, MSF has sent two cholera kits (one for Pointe Noire and one for Brazzaville) as well as 14,000 litres of fluids to Pointe Noire. The MSF cholera kit contains 4,000 litres of drips, antibiotics, plasticized cover sheets, soap, disinfectant and chlorine as well as gloves for the nursing staff. Each kit can treat up to 625 patients.