WHO urges Africa to quickly detect cases, mount timely response amid surging cholera outbreaks

Africa is witnessing an exponential rise in cholera cases amid a global surge, as cases recorded on the continent in the first month of 2023 alone have already risen by more than 30 percent of the total caseload recorded in the whole of 2022, said the World Health Organization (WHO) in a statement.

According to the WHO Regional Office for Africa, based in Brazzaville, the capital of the Republic of the Congo, an estimated 26,000 cases and 660 deaths have been reported as of Jan. 29 in ten African countries facing outbreaks since the beginning of the year.

Nearly 80,000 cases and 1,863 deaths were recorded in 15 affected countries in 2022, while 141,467 cases and 4,094 death were registered in 2021.

The WHO warned that if the current fast-rising trend continues, this year’s infections could surpass the number of cases recorded in 2021, the worst year for cholera in Africa in nearly a decade. The average case fatality ratio is currently almost at 3 percent, above the 2.3 percent recorded in 2022, and far exceeding the acceptable level of below 1 percent.

The bulk of the new cases and deaths have been recorded in Malawi, which is facing its worst cholera outbreak in two decades. Mozambique and Zambia — Malawi’s two neighbors — have also reported cases recently. In East Africa, Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia are responding to outbreaks amid a prolonged and harsh drought that has left millions of people in dire need of humanitarian assistance. Burundi, Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Nigeria have also reported cases.

“We are witnessing a worrying scenario where conflict and extreme climatic events are worsening the triggers of cholera and increasing its toll on lives,” said the WHO Regional Director for Africa Matshidiso Moeti. “It’s critical for African countries to scale up readiness to quickly detect cases and mount (a) comprehensive and timely response. We are supporting governments to bolster key control measures to halt these outbreaks as quickly as possible.”

Cholera is an acute, extremely virulent infection that can spread rapidly and dehydration results in high morbidity and mortality. The disease, however, is easily treatable. Most people can be treated successfully through prompt administration of oral rehydration solution or intravenous fluids.

The cholera outbreaks in Africa are occurring in the context of extreme climatic events, conflicts, ongoing outbreaks of other diseases such as wild poliovirus as well as limited financial resources and a strained health workforce due to the response to the COVID-19 pandemic. ■

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