Oxfam say West Africa not prepared for outbreaks

Oxfam and the U.N. Children’s Fund recently reported that West Africa is not yet fully prepared for the rapid outbreaks of cholera, dengue fever and yellow fever that are expected to coincide with the onset of this year’s rainy season.

The aid agencies worry that the governments of West Africa will be unable to treat those that are infected with these diseases and will be further unable to halt their spread, according to Reuters AlertNet.

"The rains cause floods, mudslides, pools of stagnant water, flushing out of latrines which contaminate drinking water sources or serve as habitat for vectors of these deadly diseases," Francois Bellet, a regional water, hygiene and sanitation specialist for UNICEF, told Reuters AlertNet.

Cholera outbreaks have already been reported in Nigeria, Benin, Ivory Coast, Niger, Liberia and Cameroon. Almost 100 people have died from the waterborne disease in northern Cameroon.

"We need to improve water supply and hygiene and sanitation facilities, as well as behaviors," Angela Fleischer,a regional advisor on water, sanitation and hygiene for Oxfam, told Reuters AlertNet.

Many of the regions expected to be hit hard by this season’s outbreaks become difficult to access by aid agencies because of poor transportation systems. This includes northern Cameroon, which lacks health services and locally-based aid groups.

"What is disturbing is that in this area, which is a sort of no-man's land, the real number of cases could be 10 or more times higher than the number of declared cases," Bellet said, according to Reuters AlertNet. “Since in half of cholera cases no symptoms are apparent in the first 10 days, infected people can move across borders or from town to town leading to bigger epidemics.”

Countries with large numbers of malnourished are at even greater risk.

"Malnourished people are more vulnerable to cholera because they have a lower immunity and it's harder for them to recover because they do not have enough reserves to deal with the situation," Fleischer said.