Cholera Kills Over 200 in Northern Cameroon

A cholera epidemic has hit northern Cameroon, killing more than 200 people in less than a month. The government of the central African nation and aid agencies say some of the affected persons are refugees fleeing the Nigerian militant group Boko Haram.

Cameroon's Far North regional delegate for public health, Dr. Rebecca Djao, says the death toll from cholera in hospitals has surged to more than 100 and deaths out of hospital are also estimated at more than a hundred.

The epidemic follows heavy rains that triggered flooding.

Cameroon's Minister of Public Health Andre Mama Fouda told VOA a majority of people infected with the disease are children under the age of five and women. 

He advised people to drink only potable water and not get their water from rivers, which can carry the disease downstream if infected fecal matter or bacteria is in the water.

"I have asked them to boil water from suspicious sources before drinking," he said, "and to stop their children from defecating in bushes and streams, adding that people should not dig pit toilets near water wells."

The hardest hit areas are Logone, Chari and Mayo Sava where safe drinking water is usually in short supply.

Fru Angwafor, a senior health official, said some of the patients were refugees fleeing violence in neighboring Nigeria.

"It is not possible to stop people from moving so it is entirely possible that somebody that is contaminated is moving from one region to the other and this essentially has been the case. Because of this high mobility of patients we now have the disease in this areas," said Angwafor.

Residents said medical supplies were inadequate even though the government has set up emergency units, which were consistently overwhelmed with victims.

Ngoran Pierre, a resident of Pousse, one of the localities affected, said he had strictly observed hygiene rules to avoid the disease.

"I avoid eating this from the streets because most things that you find in the streets are just exposed, flies jump from one angle to the other. I don't even think greeting with bare hands is a good practice because you just find some men urinate and come to greet you. So even just waving somebody is better," he said.

The country's Red Cross movement and the National Order of Medical Doctors have warned that if resources are not deployed to fight the disease, Cameroon may be in for a repeat of the 2010 epidemic, when the country had to deal with 10,000 cases of cholera, more than 80 percent of them in the north.

That epidemic killed about 4,000 people.

VOA News / Jul. 30, 2014 08:27 KST