Cholera toll mounting in the Lake Chad basin

Cholera has killed at least 1,200 people in the countries surrounding Lake Chad this year, including Niger, Cameroon, Chad and Nigeria.

The illness, which is linked primarily to a lack of potable water and an abundance of poor sanitation, has struck approximately 38,800 people in the region this year and continues to spread, IRIN News reports. With a good part of the rainy season still ahead, officials are worried because the rains generally cause spikes in cholera as water sources become contaminated.

The Lake Chad Basin is the center of economic activity – fishing, commerce, farming – for some 11 million people, according to an August UNICEF report. Population movements for commercial and social activity are constant between areas where sanitation is poor, which contributes to an explosion of cholera when infection starts.

"A cross-border, decentralized approach is necessary to protect each country's population and nip outbreaks in the bud," François Bellet, a UNICEF regional water and sanitation specialist for west and central Africa ,said, according to IRIN News.

In October, health ministers Niger, Cameroon, Chad and Nigeria as well as Benin signed the Abuja Commitment, which calls for better collaboration to tackle infectious diseases like cholera, IRIN News reports. The health ministers acknowledge that people do not have adequate access to proper sanitation and that cross-border coordination mechanisms are lacking. This gives the health districts no formal way to share disease surveillance data.

Last year, the Lake Chad Basin region reported 58,000 cases of cholera, with 2,300 deaths, according to UNICEF, which would rank as the most serious cholera outbreak since 1991.