Cholera outbreak spreads in the Democratic Republic of Congo

A deadly cholera epidemic in the Democratic Republic of Congo has spread to Kinshasa, its capital and largest city.

The World Health Organization recently reported that three cases of the waterborne epidemic have been confirmed since last week, according to Reuters. Kinshasa has a population of about nine million people, many of whom live in unsanitary conditions.

"If there's an epidemic here it will be very, very dangerous," Eugene Kabambi, a communications officer for the WHO, said, Reuters reports. "People are living in very precarious conditions, there are zones along the river which are very exposed."

Kabambi said that traders traveling by boat on the Congo River from Bandundu province appear to be bringing the disease with them. The cholera outbreak infected more than 680 people and killed 32 this month.

The WHO is cooperating with the Congolese government and other partners to increase surveillance along Kinshasa’s river ports. It has also started to identify hospitals that will be capable of taking on cholera patients.

A recent measles outbreak in neighboring Republic of Congo reportedly killed 32 people and infected approximately 800 more. Public health officials said that the outbreak there is centered in the southern Pointe Noire and Kouilou regions, according to

Of the 800 reported cases, more than 600 have required hospitalization. The first cases appeared in December, but a simultaneous outbreak of polio appears to have caused the measles cases to be ignored.

The Ministry of Health has attributed the spread of the outbreak to low vaccination coverage rates, the poor organization of health services and gaps in vaccine supplies during 2010.