- An estimated half a million people are at risk as cholera has broken out in southern Mali. The epidemic seems to spread downwards the Niger River. More than 50 people have already died and almost 700 are confirmed to be infected.
The international organisation Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) estimates that half a million people are at risk by the cholera outbreak, which spreads through dirty water. The local population are mainly nomadic fishermen who rely on the river water for drinking, cooking and washing. "As a result cholera is spreading rapidly," MSF reports from Mali.
MSF today said it had sent a full charter with medical equipment and staff to Mali to curb a cholera epidemic that is spreading from the southern part of the country to the north. Over the past three weeks cholera cases were detected in the southern towns of Massina and Koulikoro.
A combined team of local health authorities and MSF staff that went to assess the situation found more cases. The highly contagious water-borne disease seems to be spreading along the Niger River in northern direction, with cases found in the larger towns of Ségou and Mopti as well.
- So far we have counted a total of 693 cholera patients of whom 55 people died, said Luc Derlet of MSF. "The seven cases that have been detected in Mopti, a bigger town to the north, are particularly worrying as they put a large population at risk. We are focusing on immediate isolation and treatment in a bid to stop the epidemic from spreading even further. A prevention programme is the next logical step," he added.
Mr Derlet further said that MSF was to open two or three cholera treatment centres along the Niger River, at places with the highest concentration of cholera cases, where the patients can be treated in isolation. "Another 15 smaller structures will be opened along the river as well to improve access to the more remote areas," he said.
- For this, our teams will mainly go by boat, Mr Derlet explained. "We will probably have eight international and around 20 national staff mobilised for this cholera emergency intervention."
MSF has sent the first cholera treatment kits from Burkina Faso and Côte d'Ivoire. The shipment from Ostend, Belgium, was of 30 tons of medical and logistical equipment and was to arrive yesterday. With this material, the treatment centres should be operational by mid next week.
- Once the cholera treatment centres are running properly, we will consider providing alternative and safe drinking water as well, to make sure that cholera will not spread further along the river, said Mr Derlet. "But this will take considerably more equipment and staff. We concentrate first on treating the patients and will expand or adapt our intervention according to how the outbreak develops."
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