WHO reports exponential increase in cholera cases in Africa

Across the continent, cases in January were 30 percent higher than all of last year.

Most of the new infections and deaths have occurred in Malawi, which is experiencing its worst outbreak in 20 years.

10 affected countries

Overall, 10 African countries are affected cholera. The waterborne disease causes acute watery diarrhea and can kill within hours, but is easily treated.

In addition to Malawi, cases have been reported in neighboring Mozambique and Zambia, as well as in Burundi, Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Nigeria.

Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia are also responding to outbreaks amid a historic drought in the Horn of Africa that leaves millions in dire need of humanitarian assistance.

“Alarm Scenario”

“We are seeing an alarming scenario when conflicts and extreme climate events exacerbate cholera triggers and increase its number of lives,” said Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa.

As of January 29, about 26,000 cases and 660 deaths have been reported in 10 countries.

The WHO has warned that if the current trend continues, cases could outnumber registered in 2021, the worst year for cholera in Africa in nearly a decade.

The average case fatality rate is almost three percent, up from the 2.3 percent reached in 2022 and far above the acceptable level below one.

“It is critical for African countries to improve their preparedness for rapid case detection and take comprehensive and timely responses,” said Dr Moeti.

Malawi support

WHO is helping governments fight back, including by strengthening disease surveillance, prevention and treatment, and engaging communities.

Sixty-five experts have been deployed to five countries, 40 to Malawi alone, where nearly 37,000 cholera cases and 1,210 deaths have been reported in all 29 districts since March last year.

In addition, WHO distributed cholera kits and other supplies, including oral rehydration salts, intravenous fluids, antibiotics, rapid diagnostic kits, personal protective equipment, tents and cholera beds.

He also helped set up nearly 50 rehydration sites in vulnerable communities and supported the recruitment of dozens of doctors, nurses and clinical technicians across the country.

More investment needed

In addition, WHO has also provided US$6 million to start an emergency cholera response in Malawi, Kenya and Mozambique through the International Vaccine Partnership known as the ICG.

The increase in the number of cholera outbreaks around the world has led to tremendous pressure on the availability of oral vaccines to treat the disease.

In October, the ICG temporarily suspended the standard two-dose regimen to a single-dose approach. A further surge in the incidence of cholera could exacerbate the deficiency.

“Every death from cholera is preventable,” said Dr. Moeti. “This disease is a problem not only for health, but also for development. Because such investment in improved sanitation and access to safe water greatly complements public health initiatives to sustainably control and eliminate cholera.”

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