UNICEF alarmed by cholera outbreak in Sao Tome
May 12, 2005 - 5:43:38 PM

In response to an outbreak of cholera, UNICEF has rushed medical supplies to Sao Tome, where nearly 80 per cent of the island’s total population is at risk to the deadly disease.

During the first 2 weeks of the outbreak, 74 acute cases were reported, coming mainly from the Bairro de Hospital and Ferreiro Governo wards in Agua Grande District, which hosts the nation’s capital. As of 9 May, 130 cases and 3 deaths have been officially reported. Most of the island’s population of an estimated 140,000 lives within 10 kms of the outbreak area.

UNICEF has provided nearly $53,000 worth of medication, oral re-hydration salts and other accessories and contributed to the deployment of outreach workers and to information campaigns to inform the public.

"We must not underestimate the extremely dangerous force of this disease," said UNICEF Representative Kristian Laubjerg, from Libreville in Gabon. "It is extremely urgent that we get clean water and safe toilet and sanitary facilities as quickly as possible to all affected communities to ensure against the death of children, who are especially vulnerable".

Cholera is spread through contaminated water and food, and severe, sudden outbreaks are usually caused by water supplies that have been contaminated. Fatality rates may be as high as 50 per cent if the community is unprepared and if treatment is given to late. Young children are particularly vulnerable to cholera, which causes diarrhea that can lead to severe dehydration and death.

UNICEF, in collaboration with the Ministry of Health, the World Health Organization, the United Nations Development Program and districts officials, has mobilized community health teams to increase community awareness; implement community-based needs assessment missions; detect and prevent the spread of the outbreak and distribute potable water to affected neighborhoods. A massive media and communication campaign is also underway to scale up environmental sanitation efforts that include community based waste disposal and the building of toilets for improved household sanitation.

"We must contain this disease before it gets out of control," said Mr. Laubjerg.

Nearly 20 per cent of the population of Sao Tome has no access to safe drinking water; only nine per cent use safe toilet facilities. Diarrhoeal diseases have long been the principal cause of mortality among children under 5 years old, with an annual average of about 3,600 cases. However, government authorities have worked rapidly and transparently, together with city and town councils, to inform the nation of the outbreak and to take measures to halt the spread.

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