UN agency steps up efforts to help Niger respond to cholera epidemic

Mangaize refugee site hosts 3,000 of 40,000 Malian refugees in Niger. Photo: UNHCR/H. Caux

21 May 2013 – The United Nations refugee agency said today it is working to help contain a cholera epidemic in Niger that has already claimed seven lives, including those of two Malian refugees, in a little over a week.

The two refugees are a 45-year-old man who died on 13 May, and a 3-year-old boy who passed away last Sunday, after arriving at the health centre at a late stage of the disease, which is typically contracted by consuming contaminated water.

Both were refugees in the Mangaize camp which hosts 15,000 in the Tillaberi region, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). To date, 248 cases have been registered in the Tillaberi region, including with 31 cases among refugees in Mangaize and Tabareybarey camps.

“We are responding to the outbreak in the camps by implementing emergency health and sanitation measures, such as increasing the supply of clean water,” UNHCR spokesperson Melissa Fleming told reporters in Geneva.

“Together with our partners, we are also providing oral rehydration solutions, soap and aquatabs. However, more drugs are urgently needed in the centres to treat potential new cases,” she said.

UNHCR is also working to spread public health messages in the camps through sensitization campaigns. The same measures are being put in place for the local community in the surrounding areas.

“We are currently reinforcing our team with the arrival yesterday (Monday) of a regional health co-ordinator who will work with authorities and partners on additional measures to contain the epidemic,” said Ms. Fleming.

“The implementation of a vaccination campaign for the population at risk, both inside and outside the refugee camps, is a measure under consideration.”

Last year, a cholera epidemic affected 5,287 people and killed 110 throughout Niger. The region of Tillaberi was the most affected with 4,792 cases and 87 deaths. No refugee died at that time.

UNHCR noted that cholera outbreaks are recurrent in Niger, one of the poorest countries in the world. Niger is currently hosting some 50,000 Malian refugees who fled the fighting in their homeland, including 31,000 spread across 3 camps in the Tillaberi region.


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