September 12, 2010

Nigeria Cholera Epidemic Kills 800

"¨The government of Nigeria is scrambling to contain a cholera epidemic that has killed some 800 citizens in two months.  

The epidemic, Nigeria's worst in 19 years, is spreading to Chad, Cameroon and Niger, where it has killed hundreds more.

Rudimentary health clinics in Nigeria were packed with patients as workers in surgical masks scattered anti-bacterial solution along dirt paths.

In a clinic in the village of Ganjuwa, small children hooked up to I.V. tubes laid under a bright-colored cloth as doctors worked to save them by rehydrating them intravenously.  Patients in a nearby maternity clinic that had been converted into a cholera hospital lay contorted on dirty mattresses as they suffered from severe diarrhea brought on by the cholera.  As clinics became full doctors were forced to put new patients into storerooms and concrete hallways covered in human waste.

Lack of clean drinking water remains a problem throughout the villages and cities of West Africa, further facilitating the spread of the waterborne bacterial disease.

In Nigeria alone, 13,000 people have been sickened, the Associated Press reported.

"These areas become breeding ground for cholera," the AP cited UNICEF official Chris Cormency as saying.

The cholera outbreak began in Nigeria, and then spread to Cameroon, where more than 300 people have died and 5,000 have been sickened, Cormency said.
More than 40 people have died and 600 have fallen ill in Chad, and the disease also has appeared in nearby Niger, he added.

Cholera is a rapidly developing, highly contagious infection.   Symptoms include severe diarrhea, which can lead to dangerous dehydration and possible death.

The current outbreak is Nigeria's worst since 1991, when 7,654 people died, according to the World Health Organization.

Cholera is easily preventable with clean water and sanitation. However, many parts of West Africa include slums and mudwalled villages, where sanitation is nonexistent.

In Nigeria, whose government earns billions of dollars annually as one of Africa's top oil exporters, nearly half of the nation's 150 million people lack access to clean water and sanitation, according to the WHO.

Poor sanitation "is the backbone of this disease," said Red Cross official Adamu Abubakar in Ganjuwa during an interview with the Associated Press.

Doctors at a makeshift cholera clinic in Ganjuwa are scrambling to keep the disease from spreading by turning well-wishers away, and are even preventing sick mothers from holding their children.

The poorly funded clinics put patients on torn, foam mattresses with only a plastic bucket underneath to collect the waste.

Those who are seriously ill receive I.V. medications, although many can be effectively treated but staying hydrated during the course of the illness.

In the capital of Bauchi, the largest state hospital has a clinic staffed by Doctors Without Borders, where more than 100 patients are being treated.  Across northern Nigeria, many more are in local clinics or at their homes.

Volunteers with large sprayers moved through the narrow muddy streets of Ganjuwa, entering family compounds and spraying a chlorine solution to kill the cholera bacteria.   The workers also placed chlorine tablets into wells.

Bauchi state health official Dr. Musa Dambam Mohammed told the AP that local government has chlorinated every well in the area.  However, over time the chlorine wears off, leaving the wells again susceptible to cholera.  

Rainy weather is further complicating the outbreak, flushing sewage out of small holes at the base of mud walls along muddy paths and into trash-pit ponds near family compounds.


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