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Cholera epidemic threatens residents of southern Somalia

Friday, July 27, 2012

A cholera epidemic is spreading in southern Somalia, causing an alarming number of children and elderly to travel to Mogadishu for treatment, Banadir Maternity and Children's Hospital (BMCH) officials say.

BMCH has been receiving hundreds of cases of cholera from Mogadishu, Kismayo, and towns in the Middle and Lower Shabelle regions in southern Somalia.

Cholera is an intestinal disease that is generally linked to contaminated drinking water, causing severe diarrhoea and vomiting, putting people at risk of dehydration and even death.

The Somali Ministry of Health says the rainy season in Mogadishu and the southern areas has exacerbated the spread of the disease.

Duniya Khalif, a nurse at BMCH, told Sabahi that children and elderly people are affected most acutely from the effects of the disease.

"People come here for free treatment, which is offered by the state-run Banadir Hospital in collaboration with humanitarian organisations from Kuwait, Germany, Sudan, Saudi Arabia and Turkey," Khalif said. "We are currently seeking solutions to stop the spread of this disease and trying to prevent its recurrence in the capital so we can eradicate it. We will conduct health-awareness campaigns for citizens through the local media and leaflets that we will soon publish."

Nasteha Ahmed Farah, 27, has two children who contracted the illness in Qoryooley, 120 kilometres southwest of Mogadishu. The town is under the control of al-Qaeda-affiliated al-Shabaab, which turned the town's hospital into a shelter for its fighters.

Farah travelled from Qoryooley to Mogadishu to seek treatment for her 2-year-old daughter, Sowda. The child weighs 6.6 kilograms, well below the average of 12 kilograms for her age, and suffers from diarrhoea and malnutrition.

"I arrived in Mogadishu two days ago and the land journey between the town of Qoryooley in Lower Shabelle and Mogadishu lasted more than six hours," Farah told Sabahi. "We suffered from exhaustion and neglect, but we got the support that we needed from Banadir Hospital, which provided us with intravenous fluids, oral re-hydration solutions and food on a daily basis."

Senior nurse Abdirahman Mohamed Ali says cholera has been a recurrent problem since 1999, as the country has been plagued by wars, poverty and natural disasters including drought and flooding.

Ali told Sabahi that cholera is ubiquitous in hot and dry climates, especially from December through April, when heavy rain falls over various parts of the country.
Sharp rise in fatal cases of cholera

The Sudan office of the Kuwait Patients Helping Fund Society has been running the diarrhoea section at BMCH for the past year. It said there has been a sharp increase in the number of fatal cases of cholera.

Sudanese paediatrician Ibrahim Osman Mohamed said 2,000 patients suffering from diarrhoea and malnutrition have been admitted to BMCH in the past three months. He said the hospital treated 1,057 such cases in June.

Mohamed said many people die from cholera because they do not receive treatment in the early stages of the disease.

"We received 12 [bodies] that reached us too late due to lack of transportation and security issues since there is a curfew in Mogadishu that bans vehicles on the streets an hour after sunset," he told Sabahi. "Twenty-four children and several elderly women died in the past three weeks because the disease had reached a late stage and they were totally dehydrated and lost all minerals and fluids in their bodies, resulting in kidney failure."

Mohamed says he sees 57 patients daily, including children under five years old who suffer from severe diarrhoea.

He said health conditions are likely to worsen over the next several weeks, unless the international community intervenes in Kismayo and other southern towns, where residents rely on the Juba and Shabelle rivers for drinking water and there are no water treatment and desalination plants to remove contaminants.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) says the number of cholera cases registered among internally displaced persons in Mogadishu is worrying due to food and water shortages.

"Cholera cases have doubled and tripled since last year, which is why we can say there is a cholera epidemic," said WHO staff member Michael Yao, adding that 4,272 cases of severe diarrhoea have been registered so far this year at the Banadir Hospital, most of which are children under five, resulting in 181 deaths.

"The movement of people has increased the danger of spreading the disease to more areas," Yao said.


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