In Yemen, clean drinking water and operational medical facilities are scarce.Already, more than half a million people there have gotten cholera.And that number is expected to top out at a million before the year ends.Worldwide, about 100,000 people die from cholera each year.
Health workers are concerned that the next outbreak will be in Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh.
The World Health Organization now has a plan to end cholera by 2030.
“It’s not possible to completely eliminate it from the planet, the way we eliminated small pox.However, we can make cholera as rare in Bangladesh and as rare in Yemen as it is in United States and the rest of North America.”
Cholera is a diarrheal disease caused by bacteria that lives in brackish rivers and coastal waters.It thrives where there is poor water treatment, poor sanitation and hygiene.It’s caused by eating or drinking contaminated food and water.
Malnutrition is also a factor.
“There’s a cycle of illness and malnutrition where you have a child who is sick, and they lose their appetite.And they become dehydrated from having diarrhea, they obviously lose weight, and then, once they are malnourished then,that also drives their vulnerability to additional illness.”
Anyone can get cholera, but children, pregnant women and the elderly are most at risk.
Yet, cholera is not difficult or expensive to treat.
“It actually is really simple if you can catch it early and you can provide hydration to the less severe patients so they don’t become the severe patients that then require more intensive treatment.”
But in places ravaged by flooding and other natural disasters,or by manmade disasters like war, and crowded refugee camps, sanitation is hard to maintain.Water can’t be treated properly, human waste can’t easily be disposed of hygienically,so in addition to providing aid, humanitarian organizations find themselves trying to rebuild sanitation systems.
The WHO says about 2 billion people globally lack access to clean water.
Vaccines can help. But building sanitation systems in poor countries is critical to preventing cholera once and for all.
“You’ve to think about what the enormous burden cholera is.It’s basically a poverty trap for some of those countries which they can never get out of.
Forty-seven countries are affected by cholera, and the WHO expects the global cholera situation to get worse.That’s why this new strategy to end cholera is so urgent.
Carol Pearson, VOA news, Washington.