SIERRA LEONE: Cholera deaths surge

FREETOWN, 3 October 2007 (IRIN) - A deadly cholera epidemic has broken out in several regions of Sierra Leone. Since the first week of September at least 523 people have been infected in Kambia district in northern Sierra Leone close to the border with Guinea, and in the eastern town of Kenema, and Newton on the outskirts of the capital Freetown, according to the Ministry of Health. Cholera can be easily treated with a course of dehydration and local government authorities have been using FM radio to appeal to people to report cases of diarrhoea and vomiting to the nearest health centre. "We have the personnel and enough drugs to quickly and professionally intervene," The Kambia District medical officer Joseph Kandeh told IRIN. Nonetheless, 30 people died from the disease in September, the Ministry said. The district medical officer for Kenema, Yankuba Bah, said that people are reluctant to seek treatment when they get sick as they do not have confidence in public hospitals. "Most patients only visit government hospitals when they are in a precarious condition," he said. Bah also said that most of the people infected are women. They are more exposed to the disease, he said, because they fetch water from streams and work in crowded markets. Cholera and other waterborne diseases occur each year during the rainy season as heavy rains lead to the contamination of streams and wells from uncollected garbage and effluent. Last year, 2,560 cholera cases were recorded in Sierra Leone during the rainy season between August and October, with 77 deaths. Less than 50 percent of people outside Freetown have access to clean water and toilets, according to the UN, and most depend on streams and rainfall for their drinking water.