Cholera: An over looked outcome of climate change

TANZANIA: TANZANIA has experienced one of the worst cholera outbreaks in recent years. Since September last year, the Ministry of Health (MOH) has reported cholera outbreak in 13 regions, namely Mara, Arusha, Kilimanjaro, Kigoma, Kagera, Singida, Simiyu, Shinyanga, Tabora, Ruvuma, Dodoma, Mwanza and Geita in Tanzania Mainland, with cumulatively 1,521 cases and 34 deaths.

Bukoba Municipal Medical Officer, Dr Peter Mkenda explained that the number of patients who were confirmed to have contracted cholera in Bukoba Municipal increased to 16 with two reported deaths.

The first cholera patient was reported on January 4, this year in Bakoba Ward’s Kafuti Street while other patients were reported from different areas. About 11 patients were treated and discharged while two patients were admitted to Nshambya District Hospital for treatment, he said.

In December last year (2023), the number of patients confirmed to have contracted cholera in Missenyi district increased to 7 patients with four confirmed deaths. Four people died of the pandemic on November 29th, last year at Bugorora Ward’s Buchurago village, in Missenyi District while five patients were earlier admitted at the St Therese Omukajunguti hospital. Dr Mkenda said the fight against the pandemic must involve all citizens, adding, “It is a matter of life and death. The only known cause for the deadly disease is dirt in all forms. First and foremost, proper sanitation is one of the tools against the disease. It requires the highest degree of personal hygiene. This can be done. Let us all take heed,” he said.

He appealed to citizens to take precautionary measures, including washing hands with soap, before taking any meal and doing the same after using the toilet. He also called upon residents in Bukoba Municipal Council to ensure that they boil or treat drinking water.

“The agenda of keeping the environment clean should be permanent. This should be routine for each household to ensure that they have decent toilets and garbage is disposed forthwith,” he said.

He directed Municipal health officials and Ward Executive Officers (WEOs) to ensure that surveillance teams are keeping a 24-hour monitoring and give a report on any suspected case. People should also be sensitised to maintain hygiene and drink boiled water.

The Minister for Health, Ms Ummy Mwalimu, on the other hand, has called upon Regional Commissioners and health sector executives to continue instituting measures to control the spread of the disease.

Ms Mwalimu said that in 2023, cholera outbreak was reported in 13 regions with cumulatively 1,521 cases and 34 deaths. According to the Ministry of Health (MoH) officials, cholera is a diarrheal illness that spreads in places where access to clean water is limited and people end up consuming contaminated food and water.

Poor sanitation and hygiene practices also accelerate its spread. In the 21st century, every case of and every death from cholera is preventable.

Climate change –related extreme weather and the destruction it causes are making headlines on a regular basis. Cholera is completely preventable but also extremely dangerous, causing severe dehydration, diarrhoea and vomiting -symptoms that can kill within hours without treatment.

According to UNICEF, 30 countries faced cholera outbreaks in 2022 –an alarming 145 per cent increase from the previous five-year average.

Combined with climate change, this bacterial illness poses an imminent threat to vulnerable years, as the climate crisis has become more severe, there has also been a major surge in the number of cholera outbreaks across the world.

We have witnessed repeatedly in different countries and communities’ climaterelated intense tropical storms, heavy rains and flooding which damage or destroy water and sanitation infrastructure and cause untreated sewage to spill into clean water sources and triggering cholera outbreaks.

Cholera is an infection of the bacterium Vibrio Cholerae. Symptoms may range from none, mild, to severe. The classic symptom is large amounts of watery diarrhoea that lasts a few days.

Vomiting and muscle cramps may also occur. Diarrhoea can be so severe that it leads within hours to severe dehydration and electrolyte imbalance. It is spread mostly by water and food that has been contaminated with human faeces containing the bacteria.

Humans are the only mammals affected by cholera while risk factors of the disease include poor sanitation, not enough clean drinking water and poverty. Prevention involves improved sanitation and access to clean water. Being a water-borne and filth- borne disease, cholera is no laughing matter.

It is a highly contagious malady that can wreak havoc in a wider area within a very short span of time, leaving a trail of death in its wake. Cholera affects an estimated 3-5 million people worldwide and causes 58,000- 130,000 deaths a year. It is downright disgraceful as the epidemic is all about coming into mouth contact with infected human faeces.

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