Cameroon Struggling to Contain Cholera Outbreak, Quarantines Patients

Cameroon is struggling to contain a cholera outbreak that has sickened 6,000 people with the bacteria and killed nearly 100 since February. Authorities have dispatched the ministers of health and water to affected areas and have begun quarantining cholera patients to prevent it from spreading.

Cameroon’s Public Health Ministry said the number of cholera patients received in hospitals was growing by the day.  

In the seaside city of Limbe in the past week alone, 200 of 300 patients were treated and discharged from the government hospital. 

Filbert Eko, the highest-ranking official in Cameroon’s Southwest region where Limbe is located, said the region was the worst hit by cholera, with more than 800 cases since February, forcing the the quarantining of patients to prevent the disease from spreading.

“The treatment center will be separated from the hospital and from the public. No outsider will be allowed to have access to the patients,” Eko said. “We don’t want contact between families and the patients. We are taking [efforts] upon ourselves, searching for resources to feed these patients free of charge.”

Cameroon’s Public Health Ministry says many of those sickened by cholera do not go to hospitals, seeking only traditional cures, and end up dying at home, though no official figures are given.  

Health officials are urging traditional healers to direct their cholera patients to the closest hospital. 

Linda Esso, director of epidemics and pandemics at Cameroon’s Public Health Ministry, said cholera has spread to more than 40% of major towns, including the capital, Yaounde, the economic capital, Douala, and western commercial towns like Buea, Limbe and Bafoussam.  Esso said scores of villages have reported cholera cases and the entire country is threatened by the outbreak. She said the public should be very careful and protect itselves because contaminated persons may be spreading the disease without knowing it.

Cameroon’s president, Paul Biya, dispatched the ministers of health and water this week to cholera-affected areas to assess the situation.  

The two ministers blamed a shortage of clean drinking water in towns and villages, brought on by the long dry season, for rising cholera infections. 

They said medical staff were increased in the areas and about 30 new public toilets have been constructed in Limbe, Buea, and Douala to improve public hygiene. The ministers called on the public to stop defecating in the open and in streams.  

Cameroon’s minister of water, Gaston Eloundou Essomba, said officials are also providing clean water to villages and towns hit by the outbreak. He said he has asked the Cameroon Water Distribution Company (CAMWATER) to make sure trucks transport water regularly and free of charge to towns and villages that lack piped water.  He said the water distribution company should immediately treat water in all community and family wells to ensure the public has quality drinking water.

Cameroon’s public health minister, Manaouda Malachie, says Douala’s New Bell Prison has become an epicenter of cholera.  

He said hygiene had been improved at the prison but would not say how many of the more than 6,000 inmates were infected or died from the bacteria.  

Cameroon suffers from frequent cholera outbreaks.  One of the worst, in 2011, infected more than 23,000 people and killed more than 800.

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