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MSF in Mali to fight cholera epidemic

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Brussels - MSF has sent a full charter with medical equipment and staff to Mali to curb a cholera epidemic that is spreading from the southern part of the country to the north. Over the past three weeks cholera cases were detected in the southern towns of Macina and Koulikoro. A combined team of MSF and local health authorities that went to assess the situation found more cases.

The highly contagious water-borne disease seems to be spreading along the Niger river in northern direction, with cases found in Ségou and Mopti as well. "So far we have counted a total of 693 cholera patients of whom 55 people died," said Luc Derlet, Operations Coordinator for MSF, from Luxemburg. "The seven cases that have been detected in Mopti, a bigger town to the north, are particularly worrying as they put a large population at risk. We are focusing on immediate isolation and treatment in a bid to stop the epidemic from spreading even further.

A prevention programme is the next logical step." Derlet estimates that half a million people are at risk. The local population are mainly nomadic fishermen who rely on the river water for drinking, cooking and washing. As a result cholera is spreading rapidly. "We will open two or three cholera treatment centres (CTC) along the Niger river, at places with the highest concentration of cholera cases, where the patients can be treated in isolation.

Another 15 smaller structures will be opened along the river as well to improve access to the more remote areas. For this, our teams will mainly go by boat. We will probably have eight international and around 20 national staff mobilised for this cholera emergency intervention," Derlet added.

MSF has sent the first cholera treatment kits from Burkina Faso and Ivory Coast. The shipment from Ostend, Belgium, was of 30 tons of medical and logistical equipment and will arrive today (November 18). With this material, the treatment centres should be operational by mid next week.

"Once the CTCs are running properly, we will consider providing alternative and safe drinking water as well, to make sure that cholera will not spread further along the river," said Luc Derlet. "But this will take considerably more equipment and staff. We concentrate first on treating the patients and will expand or adapt our intervention according to how the outbreak develops."