Democratic Republic of Congo

Over 4,000 cholera patients and 100 deaths in Katanga

LUBUMBASHI - Cholera outbreaks are still on the increase in cities of Katanga province, in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). So far, a total of 4,029 patients, of whom at least 97 died, have been reported by MSF's emergency teams in the cities of Lubumbashi and Likasi.

"MSF can now treat the patients adequately in two cholera treatment centres in Lubumbashi and in a third centre installed in Likasi," explained Bertrand Perrochet, Coordinator of MSF's Congo Emergency Pool. "However, it seems that we have not yet reached the peak of the outbreak, as the number of patients is still increasing in the two cities."

In Lubumbashi, the economic capital city of the DRC, a total of 389 patients have been treated by MSF during the first week of February. This brings up to 2,543 the number of people suffering from cholera in Lubumbashi since the end of September 2007, when the first cholera patients were recorded. So far 49 people have died at the cholera treatment centres.

In Likasi, a city of 350,000 inhabitants located at about 100 km north of Lubumbashi, 1,486 patients have been admitted to the cholera treatment centre since mid-December, of whom 48 have died.

Epidemiological data for the first week of February confirm the increasing trend, even if this increase is less important: 404 patients reported at the MSF treatment centre, compared to 381 during the last week of January, and 275 the week before. There are still a lot of admissions, with about 60 new patients per day. An average of 160 patients are hospitalised in the MSF structure. This week cholera killed 21 people.

"In terms of treatment we can deal with the increasing number of patients, but the causes of the infection must be more strongly tackled," said Perrochet. "We are very concerned, mainly because of the lack of access to safe water in the popular neighbourhoods of Lubumbashi and Likasi. To stop these cholera outbreaks, much more needs to be done in terms of water."

Particularly, the city of Likasi has faced huge problems of safe water supply for years. Contaminated sources where the population takes the water seems to be the cause of the epidemic and of its aggravation in Kikula neighbourhood, where about 90 percent of the patients have originated.

"Responding to this problem requires considerable means and an investment in the long run," adds Perrochet. "Yet if nothing is done the outbreak may not only increase but also spread to other localities."

According the United Nations, less than 50 percent of the population of Katanga has access to drinkable water.