BANGUI, Central African Republic–The cholera outbreak in the Central African Republic (CAR) was confirmed by officials on August 10, 2016, the first occurrence of cholera in the country since 2011. Over 66 cases and 16 deaths have been confirmed along the Oubangui River. The outbreak appears to have been traced back to a person who recently travelled to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and carried the disease back to the CAR.
Cholera is a diarrheal disease caused from an infection of the bacteria Vibrio cholera entering into a person’s intestines. Symptoms of the illness manifest through intense diarrhea and vomiting, often leading to severe dehydration, which can be fatal. Cholera is most often contracted by consuming contaminated drinking water. The bacterium passes on in the fecal matter of an infected person and is spread through cross contamination into another person’s digestive system. When it comes to preventing cholera, proper hygiene and avoiding unsanitary water sources is key. However, the lack of accessibility to clean drinking water puts people living in rural areas in developing countries at a greater risk for contracting the disease.
The World Health Organization (WHO) and the Ministry of Health and Sanitation have responded immediately to the cholera outbreak in the CAR by opening a cholera control command center to stem the expansion of the epidemic. Among many responsibilities, the facility is in charge of logistics, surveillance, overseeing WASH and the proper disposal of the dead bodies. Thankfully, patients reaching the center were able to receive immediate care because it was stocked in preparation for the rainy season, when risk for waterborne diseases, like cholera, is at its highest.
Medicines Sans Frontieres (MSF), or Doctors Without Borders, has set up a mobile site to aid in water sanitation by treating the Oubangui river and providing hygiene information for local residents. In accompaniment, UNICEF is also supplying resources such as medicine, kits, clean water and mobilizing units to the affected areas. The purpose of their mobilizing teams are to help prevent further outbreaks through educating communities on safe water practices, cleanliness, food safety and how to avoid cross contamination of water and feces.
In light of the active cholera outbreak in the CAR, the International Organization for Migration (IOM), co-leaders of the Camp Coordination Camp Management (CCCM), are taking as many preventative measures as possible to secure the safety of 26 displacements sites that house over 49 thousand people. Following the implementations of WASH, the IOM has increased aid along the southern border, stretching from Bangui to Congo Brazzaville, by providing an additional 14 facilitators and two nurses to promote a sensitization campaign and distribute kits provided by UNICEF. IOM has also noted the damage caused by wash out from the rainy season, and have begun working with locals to solidify and enhance existing drainage systems, as well as digging new latrines to ensure health safety for the communities.
Humanitarian organization representatives, responding to the cholera outbreak in the CAR, are fearful of the outbreak of cholera could wreck on the already weakened country. Citizens of the CAR have been plagued with constant unrest since 2013 due to conflict between rival militias. Thousands of citizen have been displaced from their homes, and the government’s efforts to unify the country has only siphoned away finances from essential programs, like that of water and sanitation.
Strengthening the plea that the CAR needs more funding and support for preventative resources, Mohammed Malick Fall, UNICEF Representative in CAR, expresses that those highest at risk for contracting cholera are children.
– Amy Whitman