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Public Health: Global Cholera Cases on the Rise amid Vaccine Shortage, Climate Crisis

By January 15, 2024No Comments
Cholera outbreak in Blantyre

With over 667,000 cases and 4,000 deaths as of December 15, the World Health Organization (WHO) has issued a warning that the number of cholera cases reported in 2023 has surpassed that of 2022. The organization stated that because different nations have diverse monitoring systems and capacities for identifying and reporting cholera cases, the data should be read cautiously.

The bacterial infection can be lethal. Its symptoms include severe diarrhea and dehydration. It is transmitted via tainted food and water, frequently from feces. Oral rehydration solution and antibiotics can be used to treat it, while good water and sanitation can help prevent it. However, poverty, violence, and natural catastrophes restrict or interfere with access to these interventions in many regions of the world.

Cholera disproportionately attacking children (c) UNICEF

According to WHO, at least 30 countries have reported cholera outbreaks since the beginning of 2023, with one new country (Togo) joining the list in December. The most affected regions are Africa, Asia, and the Americas, where cholera is endemic or recurrent. Some of the worst-hit countries include Ethiopia, Nigeria, Sudan, Yemen, Haiti, and Bangladesh.

Between January and August 2023, there were over 3,000 suspected cases of Cholera in Nigeria, according to the Nigerian Center for Disease Control. As of November 1, 2023, at least 4,695 people had died from cholera across Africa since January 2022.

In 2022, WHO declared the global resurgence of cholera as a grade 3 emergency, the highest level of urgency for a health crisis. The agency said that it is reviewing its response to cholera and adjusting to better coordinate activities and mobilize resources. However, it also said that the risk of cholera remains very high, due to the large number of outbreaks and their geographic expansion, as well as the shortage of vaccines and other tools to prevent and control the disease.

One of the main challenges facing the global response to cholera is the lack of sufficient oral cholera vaccines (OCV), which can provide protection for up to three years. WHO said that the demand for OCV has outstripped the supply, and that only 15 million doses were available in 2023, compared to the estimated need of 76 million doses. The agency said that it is working with vaccine manufacturers and partners to increase the production and allocation of OCV, and to prioritize the most at-risk populations.

Another factor that is exacerbating the cholera situation is the impact of climate change and conflict on water and sanitation systems. WHO said that extreme weather events, such as floods, cyclones, and droughts, have increased the exposure to cholera and disrupted the delivery of health services. Moreover, armed conflicts and violence have displaced millions of people and damaged or destroyed water and sanitation infrastructure, creating conducive conditions for cholera transmission.

WHO said that it is responding with urgency to reduce deaths and contain outbreaks in countries affected by cholera, by providing technical and operational support, deploying emergency teams and supplies, and strengthening surveillance and laboratory capacity. The agency also called for more funding and political commitment from the international community and national governments to address the root causes of cholera and achieve the global goal of eliminating the disease by 2030.

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