Cameroon facing largest cholera outbreak in a decade

A cholera outbreak in Cameroon has killed more than 150 people since May, with public health officials calling it the worst outbreak in a decade.

“We have recorded 2,078 cases including 155 deaths in the extreme north region,” Professor Gervais Ondobo of the health ministry revealed to AFP.

Cases, Ondobo explained, have been recorded in 17 out of the extreme north’s 28 districts.

Figures released in late July were much lower, putting the death toll at 94 out of 1,300 cases. Last year, only 51 people died from the disease.

Ondobo criticized flaws in the public health campaigns set up to fight the disease. The campaigns are carried out in English and French, Cameroon’s two official languages, but most people in the extreme north are illiterate or only speak a local dialect, AFP reports.

Aid workers say that a lack of sanitary latrine facilities and safe drinking water, combined with widespread malnutrition, have served to worsen the outbreak. According to a 2009 report by the United Nations Children’s Fund, only 30 percent of people in the rural parts of the country have access to clean water and only 15 percent to sanitation facilities.

Health officials are baffled as to why the outbreak began so early in the season. Outbreaks are common in the area, but they usually begin in September. The first case was detected in May, leading some officials to believe the infection was brought from a neighboring country and then spread through contaminated water, according to IRIN. Health officials will visit the region on August 12.

"We are used to seeing cholera here during the rainy season, but we don't understand what's happening this year," Kuété Fotié Yves, health director in the district of Moloko, told IRIN. "We have not seen an outbreak of this magnitude in at least 10 years."