The cholera outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) continues to intensify and has spread to the neighbouring Republic of Congo as well, the United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) has reported, as international efforts step up to combat the disease.
At least 3,896 cases have been reported in the DRC since the outbreak began there in March, and in the Republic of Congo, where the outbreak was first noted last month, some 181 cases are suspected.
As of 20 July, 265 people in the DRC have died while six people have lost their lives in the Republic of Congo, according to an update issued by WHO on Friday.
“There is a high risk of the epidemic further spreading along the Congo River,” a key transport link in the region, WHO stated.
“The outbreak has been reported to have spread to new locations, particularly in Kinshasa [the DRC capital], where there are large population groups with inadequate safe water.”
WHO is currently conducting a rapid risk assessment to identify urgent needs, while the agency has also deployed two epidemiologists, a health promotion officer and a logistician to support local health officials.
Authorities in the DRC and the Republic of Congo have been working with UN agencies, international organizations and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to set up cholera treatment centres in affected areas and boost surveillance and case management measures.
Cholera is an acute intestinal infection caused by eating food or drinking water contaminated with the bacterium known as vibrio cholerae. The disease has a short incubation period and produces a toxin that causes continuous watery diarrhoea, a condition that can quickly lead to severe dehydration and death if treatment is not administered promptly. Vomiting also occurs in most patients.
The disease remains a global threat and is one of the key indicators of social development, according to WHO. While cholera no longer poses a threat to countries with high standards of hygiene, it remains a challenge in countries with limited access to safe drinking water and adequate sanitation.