- Cholera outbreak in Guinea Bissau has overwhelmed health system killing 122 since May, with more fears that the disease could spread rapidly as rainy season begins, health officials said.
The Ministry of Health in Bissau said up to Tuesday, 6,461 people had contracted cholera as compared to 59 deaths reported up to 21 August.
"Rains, lack of basic sanitation and population's stubbornness in not following authorities' instructions have provoked a considerable increase in number of cases of cholera," said Umaro Ca, head of cholera department of Bissau's Simao Mendes hospital.
Cholera can be transmitted through contaminated water being drunk or used to prepare food. It begins with acute diarrhea and can kill by dehydration and kidney failure within hours.
As part of government's efforts to control spread of epidemic, a temporary ban has been placed on social gatherings and large traditional funeral and mourning ceremonies because of risks of infection involved.
"People gather in large numbers, they greet one another, all these are factors of propagation," UNICEF spokeswoman in Bissau, Karyna Silva Gomes said. "These ceremonies have been prohibited, but there is resistance to stopping them," she added.
Other health experts said this reluctance to halt traditional burial customs was being encountered for example in Pepel ethnic communities on cashew nut growing Biombo peninsula just north of Bissau.
Members of families and villages were still gathering to mourn their dead and were failing to inform authorities of cholera deaths to avoid the prohibition, reports said.
Daniel Martinez, emergency coordinator for Medicins Sans Frontiers, said though measures are in place to address the outbreak, situation is still not under control.
Guinea-Bissau has secured US $600,000 from United Nations to fight cholera epidemic. UNICEF representative in Bissau, Silvia Luciani, said the "situation is grave" and called for urgent and critical engagement of all parties.
In Bissau, one the world poorest nations, majority of its people lack clean water supply.
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