Already 38,000 infected - with an increasing trend
The Democratic Republic of the Congo is currently plagued by a massive cholera epidemic that is unprecedented in the country's history. There are now 38,000 registered cases in 21 of the country's 26 provinces. The Congolese Ministry of Health has reported over 700 victims. The aid organization "Doctors Without Borders" (MSF) is active in the province of South Kivu and offers free medical help there. According to the MSF, it will be weeks before the epidemic can be contained.
According to the MSF, infections also occurred in cities where no cholera cases were previously known. Francisco Otero, Country Coordinator for Doctors Without Borders in the Democratic Republic of Congo, reports: "One of the main reasons why cholera cases have increased so much this year is drought." Many safe water sources have dried up or the water level is so low that people are forced to draw water from unsafe sources such as rivers and lakes. "The authorities are unable to provide the population with clean drinking water," warns Otero on the aid organization's website.
How can cholera spread so much?
According to the MSF, the densely populated cities such as Goma, Minova and Bukavu are particularly affected. Since the bacterial infectious disease is mainly transmitted through contaminated drinking water or infected food, the disease is particularly widespread in conurbations with contaminated water. Those affected report on the MSF website about the importance of hygiene in order to protect themselves from cholera. Water must be boiled, fruits and vegetables washed thoroughly. The hands and the toilet must also be kept clean.
Children have an increased risk of infection
In many cases, toddlers become more and more infected with the cholera bacteria because it is not possible to constantly control what they eat, drink or do when they are playing or at school. Innocent Kunywana, MSF operations manager in South Kivu, reports: "We believe that starting school has contributed to the spread of cholera."
Cholera - nothing new in the Congo
Even though cholera is a widespread disease in the Democratic Republic of the Congo that is considered endemic in some areas, according to the MSF there are insufficient preventive measures and insufficient information in the population. Despite recurring outbreaks, some healthcare workers do not know how to properly treat cholera patients to reduce an epidemic. "We found hospitals where cholera patients were placed with patients with other diseases," says Kunywana. The risk of infection for relatives and other patients is therefore very high.
How can you protect yourself from cholera?
In addition to a swallowing vaccination, which only protects about 85 percent of the disease, the Federal Foreign Office recommends observing some basic rules. So you should only drink water of safe origin. If in doubt, you have to filter, disinfect or boil the water. Drinking water must also be used for washing dishes and brushing teeth. All food must be boiled, peeled or disinfected. Flies must be kept away from food. Hands should be washed with soap as often as possible. Hand disinfection is particularly advisable after bowel movements and before preparing food. (fp)