Dakar — More than 700 people have been sickened by cholera in Guinea-Bissau, the highest number of cases so far this year in West Africa, which has nonetheless seen a significant drop in cases this year compared to 2012.
Isolated health centres, insufficient medical personnel and detrimental traditional beliefs have contributed to the prevalence, explained Inàcio Alvarenga, an epidemiologist with World Health Organization (WHO).
Guinea-Bissau's southern Tombali region is the worst hit, with 225 cases and 21 deaths as of late July, said Nicolau Almeida, a health ministry director.
"Tombali is the poorest region [in the country] in terms of human resources. There is only one nurse per health centre. The health system cannot properly cater for patients. This is in addition to superstitions by people who don't believe the scientific explanation of cholera," Alvarenga told IRIN.
As of 22 July - when the latest data was available - the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) reported 742 cases in Guinea-Bissau, 416 in Niger and 368 in Sierra Leone. The outbreak in Guinea-Bissau is a continuation of the 2012 epidemic, when 3,359 people contracted cholera.
"To confirm a new epidemic, the 2012 outbreak should have been declared over" by demonstrating the absence of vibrio cholera in diarrhoea, said Alvarenga.
"For reasons I'm not aware of, the government did not test cases in the first weeks of the year. These cases did not disappear but got spread around," he continued. "I don't think we will hit the 2008 level [when 14,204 people were infected and 225 killed], but the disease risks will be lingering for several months like in 1996-1998."