UNICEF, WHO collaborate with Nigeria on outbreak of cholera

By Chioma Obinna

To further strengthen Nigeria’s effort towards tackling the outbreak of cholera in the country, United Nation Education Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organisation (WHO) and other partners are supporting the Nigerian government as it strives to contain the epidemic in 12 states.

It would be recalled that officially as at 30 August, 6,400 cases of cholera had been reported since the beginning of the outbreak, including 352 deaths.

So far, the epidemic is affecting Sokoto, Katsina, Jigawa, Bauchi, Yobe, Gombe, Borno, Adamawa and Taraba in the north and Rivers and Cross River states in the south. The situation is particularly serious in the north, with fatality rate as high as 10.2 per cent and 9.6 per cent in Jigawa and Yobe states respectively.

The federal and state ministries of health are managing government’s response to the outbreak. States have supplied over 70 per cent of the drugs being used to contain the epidemic while other stakeholders are providing additional supplies and medical staff, laboratory support, reagents and so on.

To this end, UNICEF has provided oral rehydration salts, water purification tablets, IV fluids, antibiotics and bacteria testing kits as well as other supplies to the ministries of health in Katsina, Bauchi, Yobe and Borno states, and is supporting TV and radio broadcast of public service announcements on how to prevent and seek treatment for cholera.

According to UNICEF Representative in Nigeria, Dr. Suomi Sakai., “We are working with the government and other partners to monitor the situation and identify resource gaps so that we can protect those most vulnerable to cholera—children and their mothers.

Also, WHO has sent experts to the affected areas to assess the situation and ensure effective response; it has provided IV fluids and rapid diagnostic kits and has trained health workers on how to treat cases effectively. WHO is also supporting cross-border surveillance with neighbouring countries such as Cameroon and Niger to prevent transmission of the disease across international borders, and facilitate exchange of information between countries on the most appropriate containment measures.

According to the WHO Representative, Dr. Peter Eriki, “WHO has field presence in all the affected states and continues to provide technical and material support to the federal and state governments to assess and contain the outbreak.”

Cholera is a rapidly spreading infection that causes diarrhea in affected persons, leading to severe dehydration and possible death. Access to clean water and sanitation facilities is essential to avoiding waterborne diseases like cholera.

The 2008 National Demographic and Health Survey, shows 42.6 percent of Nigerians (64 million people) do not have access to an improved source of water and 68.8 percent (103 million people) do not have access to safe sanitation. An estimated 46.2 million people practise open defecation.

UNICEF has been working in 13 states since 2005 in support of the installation and management of water supply systems and the establishment of “total sanitation”—universal access to sanitation and the elimination of open defecation—in rural communities and schools.

Even in the absence of these systems, individuals can protect themselves and their families from cholera and other diseases by boiling water before drinking; washing their hands frequently and thoroughly with soap (or ash), particularly after using the toilet or changing the baby and before eating; and thoroughly cooking food.

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