- Health workers and UN agencies are concerned about the rapid spread of cholera in São Tomé and Príncipe. 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 kilometres of the outbreak area.
During the first 2 weeks of the cholera 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, according to the UN's children fund, UNICEF. By now, however, 130 São Toméans have caught the deadly disease.
- 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," he added.
Cholera is spread through contaminated water and food, and severe, sudden outbreaks are usually caused by water supplies that have been contaminated. In the tiny and poor archipelago of São Tomé and Príncipe, access to clean water has become more scarce lately, due to privatisation of the state water utility and water price hikes.
During a cholera outbreak, fatality rates may be as high as 50 percent 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.
São Tomé's Ministry of Health, in collaboration with UNICEF, the World Health Organisation, the UN's Development Program and districts officials, has mobilised 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.
According to UNICEF, 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. 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. "We must contain this disease before it gets out of control," said Mr Laubjerg.
Nearly 20 percent 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.
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