- The Ministry of Health of São Tomé and Príncipe has asked for international aid to help out with the ongoing cholera epidemic in the small island nation. Several hundred cases of cholera have already been reported and at least 17 persons have died in the outbreak.
Facing an unprecedented cholera epidemic, the government of the small African country of São Tomé and Príncipe today asked for UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) staff members to work in its hospitals. "The government was very concerned by the situation, which could become significantly worse," UNICEF spokesman Damien Personnaz told a news briefing in Geneva today.
As of today, 715 cases of cholera have been reported in São Tomé, 17 of them fatal. Two weeks ago there were only 320 cases, and nine deaths. All the cases have been on the main island of São Tomé, 30 percent of them children under 14, according to national health authorities.
The total population of the islands state in the Gulf of Guinea is some 180,000, meaning that the cholera epidemic is of a large scale compared to the small nation. Also the rapid spread is concerning. "The number of cases has doubled in the past two weeks. It is extremely worrying," Mr Personnaz noted.
São Tomé earlier in November alerted its international development partners about the unprecedented cholera outbreak in the islands state. This week, the government of Taiwan pledged to support São Tomé with "several hundred thousand US dollars," according to the local press.
Sáo Toméan President Fradique de Menezes went to Taiwan on an official visit last week - a gesture usually appreciated by the non-recognised state - brought up the cholera epidemic with his Taiwanese counterpart. Taipei authorities immediately promised financial support and sent a specialist doctor to Sáo Tomé.
Cholera outbreaks often occur on the poor island of São Tomé, where only a small part of the poor population has access to clean water. Access was even limited more a few years ago as the national water provider was privatised - following IMF instructions - resulting in much higher water fares and blocking of customers unable to pay. Experiences so far indicate that this lessened access to clean water has led to more frequent and heavier cholera epidemics.
The last cholera outbreak was only registered in May this year. During that outbreak, some 255 cases of cholera were reported to national health authorities. Although that outbreak only cost three lives, it had been one of the largest in the island state's modern history.
Lack of access to clean water and safe toilet facilities also cause further health risks in São Tomé. According to UNICEF, diarrhoeal diseases have long been the principal cause of mortality among children under 5 years old, with an annual average of about 3,600 deaths. This high child mortality could easily have been prevented by hygienic measures.
Cholera is spread through contaminated water and food, and severe, sudden outbreaks are usually caused by water supplies that have been contaminated. Fatality rates may be as high as 50 per cent if the community is unprepared and if treatment is given to late. Young children are particularly vulnerable to cholera, which causes diarrhea that can lead to severe dehydration and death.
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