UN agencies warn of increase in cases of cholera

The content originally appeared on: Caribbean News Service

United Nations (UN) agencies are reporting soaring cases of cholera globally, with over 667,000 cases and more than 4,000 deaths last year.

They said the outbreaks were the deadliest in Malawi, in southern Africa, and Haiti, in the Caribbean.

At least 1,771 people lost their lives to the disease in Malawi, while 1,156 succumbed in Haiti, as of mid-December last year.

The UN World Health Organization (WHO) reported that preliminary data from member states indicate that the number of cholera cases reported in 2023, as of 15 December, surpassed that of 2022.

“Nearly a year has passed since WHO classified the global resurgence of cholera as a grade 3 emergency, the highest internal level for a health emergency requiring a comprehensive response,” the agency said in a report.

During the online launch for WHO’s Emergency Appeal on January 15, Dr Oscar Barreneche, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO)/WHO Representative in Haiti said: “The glimmer of hope comes with the adoption of the UN Security Council resolution 2699, which authorised a specialised multinational mission to support the Haitian National Police in restoring stability in the country.”

“The mission is expected to start during the first quarter of 2024. PAHO/WHO is supporting Haiti’s Ministry of Health with preparations for the mission and is facilitating the coordination with partners within the health cluster for the provision of the overall humanitarian response,” Dr Barreneche added.

The WHO is currently reviewing its response to cholera globally to identify key lessons and make evidence-based adjustments where needed to better coordinate activities in the coming months.

“Based on the large number of outbreaks and their geographic expansion, alongside the shortage of vaccines and other resources, WHO continues to assess the risk at global level as very high,” the agency added.

It also noted that the figures must be “interpreted with caution” given varying surveillance systems and capacity across countries, meaning that 2023 data are not directly comparable to reports from previous years.

The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said that eastern and southern African nations are among the worst affected, accounting for about 75 per cent of the fatalities and a third of the cases, as of 15 January.

With the regions also suffering from a lack of adequate clean water and sanitation, and poor case management, children are particularly vulnerable as the outbreaks spread rapidly.

“The cholera outbreak in the region is a significant concern to the health and well-being of children,” said Etleva Kadilli, UNICEF director for eastern and southern Africa.

“Investments in strengthening systems to address the root causes of cholera and other public health emergencies, particularly on enhancing access to clean water, improved sanitation and hygiene, social behaviour change and quality of case management, are imperative,” Kadilli added.

She also highlighted the compounding impacts of climate change, as well as the multifaceted consequences for children.

“Learning loss is a major concern. It is imperative that the response not only be swift but also consider the long-term well-being of these young children. As the new school year is starting in many countries in the region, it is crucial for measures to be put in place in schools to protect children against infections,” she said.

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