MSF warns of cholera epidemic in DRC

2011-07-01 22:13

Kinshasa - Cholera has claimed 153 lives out of 2 787 cases in the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo and the provinces, Doctors without Borders (MSF) said on Friday, warning of an epidemic.

The previous death toll, given by the health ministry on Tuesday, was of 75 among 1 268 cases registered since June in Kinshasa and two provinces in the northwest, all bordering on the Congo river.

No health ministry source was available on Friday to comment on the toll given by MSF (Medecins Sans Frontieres), an international non-governmental organisation which is working in conjunction with health authorities.

MSF said that the outbreak began in March in the north-eastern city of Kisangani, also on the river, and soon spread westwards, with the first cases reported in Kinshasa on June 20.

"If the epidemic spreads in Kinshasa, where the port daily handles thousands of navigation operations upstream and downstream, the consequences for the population of the capital will be disastrous," MSF co-ordinator Luis Encinas said in a statement.

"That is why it is vital immediately to take important preventive steps, to diagnose rapidly, to control transmission [of the disease] and to treat people affected by the illness," Encinas added.

MSF, working alongside the health ministry to target the zones the most affected by the outbreak, said it has opened several cholera treatment centres in a bid to stop the disease spreading.

"All the conditions are there for an epidemic to erupt, this is extremely worrying," warned Laurence Sailly, deputy medical coordinator of MSF in the DRC, also quoted in the statement.

Cholera is a highly contagious intestinal infection which can kill if not treated properly. The outbreak comes on top of a measles epidemic in several provinces of the vast country, where the health infrastructure has been devastated by decades of neglect and conflict.