As diarrhoea outbreak in Ethiopia decreases, upcoming mass religious festival poses new risk

Almost 9,000 patients with acute watery diarrhoea (AWD) have been treated in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, and its surroundings since MSF medical teams and health authorities joined forces at the outset of the outbreak on August 19. "Thousands of lives were saved, due to a quick response and effective collaboration with health authorities, with 19 deaths out of 8,999 patients treated in the capital," explained Karen Van den Brande, who coordinates MSF programs in Ethiopia. "Today, the outbreak is much less severe. From 700 admissions a day at the beginning of the outbreak, cases gradually decreased, stabilising at about 150 to 180 patients daily." If left untreated, people with AWD risk becoming severely dehydrated and dying. While the most severe cases must be hospitalised and receive intravenous therapy, people who are moderately sick can be easily treated with oral rehydration salts (ORS). MSF set up nine treatment facilities within public structures throughout the city. Additionally, 27 ORS points allow medical staff to stabilise the more severe patients before they are transferred to one of the inpatient facilities, but also to treat those not requiring hospitalisation. Despite the positive trend in the containment of the outbreak, the risk of a resurgence of this highly contagious disease remains, especially where there are large concentrations of people. "Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims are expected to attend the Meskel festival on September 27," said Van den Brande. "We need to remain highly vigilant and prepared. MSF is part of a task force preparing to respond, helping authorities identify risk factors, in order to prevent a further outbreak during the religious festival." Beyond Addis Ababa, MSF is also responding to AWD in two other regions: in Afar, in the north east, where more than 1,000 people have been treated since early July, and in Amhara region in the east. Additional staff have been sent to Ethiopia to augment the MSF teams on the ground.