By Joyce Ojanji

Africa is experiencing a rise in Cholera with January registering 26,000 cases (more than a third of the total cases in 2022).

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), nearly 80 000 cases and 1863 deaths were recorded in 15 affected countries in 2022. Currently, 10 African countries have been affected and the number of deaths has reached 660.

The bulk of the new cases and deaths have been recorded in Malawi, which is facing its worst cholera outbreak in two decades.

Malawi’s neighbors Mozambique and Zambia have also recently reported cases.

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.

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

“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 WHO Africa’s Incident Manager for Regional Cholera Response, Dr. Patrick Otim said in a statement.

“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.”

WHO is working with countries to ramp up disease surveillance, prevention and treatment measures, community engagement, and multi-sectorial coordination with partners and agencies to improve sanitation and provide safe water.

The Organization has deployed 65 experts to five African countries, including 40 to Malawi. In addition, WHO has also disbursed US$ 6 million to kick-start emergency cholera response in Kenya, Malawi and Mozambique.

According to WHO, the increase in cholera outbreaks globally has put a huge strain on the availability of vaccines, prompting the International Coordinating Group on Vaccine Provision to temporarily suspend the standard two-dose vaccination regimen in cholera outbreak response campaigns, using instead a single-dose approach. A further surge in cholera outbreaks risks deepening the shortage.

According to Otim, every death due to cholera is preventable. The disease is much of a health challenge as it is a developmental one. As such investments in better sanitation and access to safe water formidably complement the public health initiatives to sustainably control and end cholera.

Effective control relies on implementing comprehensive measures including enhanced epidemiological and laboratory surveillance to detect, confirm and quickly respond to outbreaks, improving access to treatment, vaccines, safe water and basic sanitation as well as effecting behavioral change and better hygiene practices among communities.