Cholera is spreading like wildfire in many countries

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Cholera is spreading like wildfire in many countries

The disease is spreading particularly in countries like Lebanon, which had not seen a case for 30 years.

A Rohingya refugee child receives an oral cholera vaccine, distributed by WHO with the help of volunteers and local NGOs, in a refugee camp near Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh.

Cholera outbreaks have been on the rise for a month in some 30 countries, including 13 that had no cases last year. The UN issues a warning: these populations need immediate help and vaccines if epidemics are to be curbed.

The scarcity of vaccines forces the World Health Organization (WHO) to impose a single dose of the vaccine rather than two to double the number of children who will be able to receive it.

Enduring conflicts and unprecedented floods in several regions around the world explain this worrying resurgence of cholera, a diarrheal disease that spreads through contaminated water.

Among the hardest hit countries are Pakistan and Bangladesh. These countries do not publish data, but they would have hundreds of thousands of cases, according to NGOs present on the ground. At the height of the epidemic, more than 1,000 Bangladeshis were hospitalized every day, which had not been seen for 60 years in this country.

It is a rapidly growing health crisis. Outbreaks of cholera, an acute intestinal infection, are increasing in several parts of the world. So far this year, 29 countries have declared deadly epidemics, including 13 that were not affected at all last year. Among the hardest-hit countries are Pakistan and Bangladesh, which are thought to have hundreds of thousands of cases. There is also Haiti, Nigeria and Lebanon, which had not recorded a case of cholera for decades. The United Nations is sounding the alarm, these populations need immediate aid and vaccines. Report by Sophie Langlois

Cholera is also spreading in countries like Lebanon, which had not seen a case of cholera for 30 years. The disease resurfaced three weeks ago in the Syrian refugee camps.

The small country hosts more than one and a half million Syrians fleeing the war. They live in tents, in camps where there is no health facility. Children, weakened by malnutrition, play in contaminated water and contract the disease.

Des children play in sewage at Qab Elias camp, Lebanon.

These refugees represent 30% of the Lebanese population, it is a huge figure, says Dr Robert Sacy, head of the pediatric department of the Quarantine hospital, joined in Beirut. The waters from their makeshift toilets land on the ground, in the open air, and will mix with drinking water, water from rivers and streams.

The camps are located in the Bekaa region, considered the breadbasket of Lebanon. This is where most of Lebanon's vegetables come from, says Dr. Sacy. If the vegetables are sprinkled with cholera water and if they are not washed properly, it can transmit the disease. That's why there's a bit of panic regarding the distribution of the water network.

According to the WHO, more 1400 suspected cases and 17 deaths have been reported in Lebanon since October 5. The epidemic, initially confined to the north, quickly spread, with confirmed cases in all eight governorates of the country.

Robert Sacy, head of the pediatric department at Quarantine Hospital, Beirut, with one of his young patients

The situation in Lebanon is fragile as the country is already struggling with protracted political and economic crises, WHO Representative in Lebanon Abdinasir Abubakar said.

< p class="e-p">The economic crisis, which has literally bankrupted the country for three years, is having disastrous effects on the health of Lebanese children. Pediatrician Robert Sacy is worried because the youngest no longer have the necessary immunity to resist infectious diseases.

People no longer have the means to ensure proper nutrition, says the doctor. About 80% of Lebanese children are anemic. We are seeing cases of tetanus because there are not many vaccines left on the Lebanese market. Before the crisis, we were in 24th place worldwide in terms of childhood vaccination; there, we are in 140th place.

A Haitian with symptoms of cholera is transported in a wheelbarrow to the Cité-Soleil shantytown in Port-au-Prince.

Cholera has resurfaced in Haiti for the past month, after three years of respite. Haitians are also hit hard by a political and security crisis that is paralyzing the entire country. In Port-au-Prince, everything is closed. Violence between criminal gangs forces residents to stay at home. So they are hungry and have no access to drinking water. The perfect conditions for a cholera outbreak.

The spread is rapid; the number of suspected cases soared from 2,000 to 3,430 in less than a week. No less than 2,942 patients are hospitalized and 89 have died. Doctors Without Borders (MSF), which runs almost all cholera treatment centers, fears a massive spread.

The concern is there, says Benedetta Capelli, deputy medical coordinator for MSF Belgium, joined in Port-au-Prince. Especially because there are still major difficulties in supplying drinking water for the population and the National Water Company of Haiti has been experiencing problems for quite a few days. of water chlorination. The last epidemic, which occurred after the 2010 earthquake, killed 10,000 people.

A boy drinks water as he receives treatment for cholera at the Immaculate Conception Hospital, Les Cayes, Haiti.

In Haiti as in Lebanon , power outages prevent water treatment plants from operating normally, if not outright flooding, as has been the case this year in many countries in Asia and Africa.

The cycle of droughts followed by devastating floods is also accelerating in the countries of the Sahel. And the damage is growing.

Nigeria, Africa's most populous country with 211 million people, experienced unprecedented flooding this fall : 33 of the 36 states of the country received torrential rains which made a million displaced. As a result, the country suffered the largest cholera epidemic in recent years. More than 10,000 cases have been listed since September. And the bacteria killed nearly 300 people, a very preliminary assessment.

A woman and her baby evacuated in the wake of floods in central Kogi State, Nigeria

There is significant concern about the various outbreaks of cholera this year because it is spreading rapidly among already weakened and vulnerable populations, such as in Haiti, says pediatrician Joanne Liu, former president of Médecins Sans Frontières international.< /p>

The other concern, she continues, is that we are running out of vaccines, so the WHO, with the International Coordinating Group for Vaccine Sharing , decided to give only one dose instead of two, knowing that it will protect more people in the short term.

The specialist in pandemic and health emergencies points out that the acceleration of climatic events – hurricanes, forest fires, droughts and floods – do not cause epidemics in rich countries. Climate change has devastating effects on populations impoverished by conflicts and crises.

Children in the Qab Elias refugee camp in the Bekaa Valley

I am very worried about to the acceleration of the various epidemics that we have noticed since the beginning of the 21st century, affirms the one who now teaches at the School of Population and Global Health at McGill University. We went from SARS to H1N1, Ebola and Zika, then back to Ebola. Currently, we have COVID-19 and monkeypox. We realize that this is repeated in a shortened period of time.

According to the pediatrician and many other scientists, the main source of this acceleration of epidemics would be the pressure on the environment, the cutting of forests, the pollution of rivers. This pressure increases the transmission of viruses from animals to humans.

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