Democratic Republic of Congo

Cholera outbreak causes high death toll

Brussels- Katanga Province, in the south of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), has been struck by a severe cholera outbreak. Over the month of August, more than 2,500 cases have been detected, while more than 100 patients have died. Cholera is spreading especially rapidly in the health zone of Kikondja. This region was already at the centre of a previous cholera epidemic earlier this year. "Cholera is a typical poor man's disease," explains Luc Nicolas, operational coordinator for MSF "People in Kikondja are weakened because they can't afford a balanced diet and health care.

Cholera is endemic, which means there are cases all year through. But sometimes the population is confronted with an outbreak, especially due to the lack of access to health care. Many sick people don't go to the health structures because they can't pay for the treatment or because there are no medicines available." Cholera is an intestinal infection characterized by copious, watery diarrhoea that can quickly lead to severe dehydration and death if not treated promptly.

Emergency teams from Kinshasa and Lubumbashi went over immediately after the first reports with medical supplies to support the existing health structures. A plane with five tons of supplies - rehydration material such as drips, sanitation equipment… - was sent from Lubumbashi while the medical team is reinforced with three local doctors. From Brussels, MSF will also send two nurses and a logistician specialised in cholera to the region.

"We are especially worried about the speed with which the cholera epidemic is spreading.", Luc Nicolas continues. "These last two weeks the number of cases in Kinondja has risen from 81 cases to 627 - and we have not seen the peak of the epidemic yet. Also, the mortality rate is very high due to a lack of supplies locally to cope with the sudden increase of cholera patients.

One patient in four to five dies because of the disease. In Kinondja, on a total number of 627 patients thus far we counted 157 deaths." Recent reports indicate that the northeast of DRC is probably confronted with a cholera epidemic as well. In the health zone of Lubutu (Maniema Province), 97 patients were detected last week, of whom 27 died. But MSF suspects that the actual numbers are much higher. The team has idenitified the source of the epidemic in this region in the neighbouring health zone of Walikale (North Kivu Province), a very unstable region where several armed groups are active.