- Heavy rains and a continued lack of access to clean drinking water and basic sanitation in Angola has seen the number of people infected by cholera rise sharply in the last two weeks. Health workers said the government was not doing enough to curb the epidemic, which has claimed almost 2,400 lives since February and at least 68 since 24 October.
Huila Province in the south of Angola and Uige Province in the north are the focus of concern. "Uige and Huila are getting quite out of control," said one source, who requested anonymity. "The provincial authorities in Uige are not really doing anything to combat cholera."
Angola's infrastructure, including its health system, was ruined during a 27-year civil war that ended only in 2002. Although it is sub-Saharan Africa's second-largest oil producer after Nigeria, and is undergoing an economic boom, most Angolans live in dire poverty and the country still has one of the world's highest child mortality rates.
Observers say health infrastructure spending in Angola needs to be bolstered to provide clean water and sanitation supplies, essential to combating the cholera epidemic. "Sanitary conditions continue to be precarious; they continue to be well below what we would hope for," said Jose Caetano, World Health Organisation (WHO) spokesman in the capital, Luanda.
"But longer-term financing is necessary for there to be long-term development. Even with peace, you can not expect access to potable water to go from 30 [percent availability] to 90 percent in four years," he told the UN media 'IRIN'.
Cholera is a waterborne intestinal infection that causes severe diarrhoea and vomiting, leading to rapid dehydration. Left untreated it can bring death within 24 hours but the World Health Organisation (WHO) describes it as "an easily treatable disease" cured with rehydration salts to replace lost fluids.
Despite this, and a series of measures put in place ahead of the annual rains from September to May, a total of 1,506 new cases have been reported all across Angola since 24 October, with the exception of Huambo, Moxico and Lunda Sul provinces, which have reported no presence of cholera.
'IRIN' was unable to reach government officials for comment. Health workers nevertheless were fearful that the number of people affected by the disease was likely to keep rising during the rainy season. "Every day, more than 100 new cases are reported," said Erna van Goor, general coordinator of medical relief agency Médecins Sans Frontières-Holland in Luanda.
"Because the rains have really started in the provinces [outside Luanda Province], it is worse there," Ms van Goor added. "Luanda is lagging behind for now, but when the rains really start to come, cholera will increase here too."
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