Heavy rainfall is accelerating the spread of cholera in Sierra Leone and Guinea, where existing health risks such as poor hygiene practices, unsafe water sources and improper waste management are believed to have triggered the disease which has killed 327 people and infected more than 17,400 in both countries since February.
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said Sierra Leone was facing its worst cholera outbreak in 15 years. Ten out of the country’s 13 districts have been affected and the government has declared the outbreak a national emergency.
Guinea’s capital, Conakry, has been the hardest hit in the country, with 3,247 cases so far. Cholera has also broken out in nine of Guinea's 33 districts, OCHA said.
“The onset of the rainy season in West Africa has caused an increase in cholera cases on both sides of the border between Sierra Leone and Guinea. The rains are particularly heavy in Sierra Leone this year,” said Laura Marconnet, an external relations officer with the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in Sierra Leone.
Prevalence is high in the congested slum areas in the capitals of Guinea and Sierra Leone which have few clean toilets and most people defecate in the open, often dangerously close to open wells which are the source of water for most residents.
Freetown’s densely populated Mabella slum, with tin shacks and poor drainage, has been badly affected. There are several community water taps, but residents complain of lack of adequate toilets, which are usually clogged with water and waste during the rainy season.
“We have seen a dramatic increase in the last 5-6 weeks in cases especially in Freetown. The response is quite difficult in terms of coordinating resources,” said Amanda McClelland, the Africa emergency health adviser at the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC). “The conditions in Freetown are the perfect storm for cholera.”
“We know we haven’t contained it by any means and it has the potential of increasing further and becoming a regional issue,” McClelland told IRIN.