25 September 2008 The United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) continue to help authorities in Guinea-Bissau combat an outbreak of cholera that has claimed at least 133 lives since May and forced thousands of others to be hospitalized.
WHO has sent an epidemiologist and UNICEF has deployed water and sanitation experts to assist in the response to the cholera epidemic, which can be a frequent occurrence in the poor West African nation.
In its latest update on the outbreak, released yesterday, WHO said that the UN agencies are working with health authorities and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to treat patients, educate the public about hygienic practices and de-stigmatize the disease among populations at risk.
Cholera is mainly transmitted through contaminated water and food and long-term prevention depends on access to safe drinking water and adequate sanitation to prevent exposure. But the water and sanitation infrastructure in Guinea-Bissau is both limited and dilapidated.
UNICEF reported earlier this month that it has already provided materials to disinfect the water system and wells in the capital, Bissau, home to more than two-thirds of all cases.
In total, 7,166 cases had been reported as of 21 September, with as many as 3,000 new cases recorded this month. The number of fatalities has also risen from 96 to 133 since early September.
Nearly 400 people died in the last previous major outbreak of cholera in Guinea-Bissau, in 2005-06.
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