OCEANIA/PAPUA NEW GUINEA - Cholera epidemic seriously threatening the country; 45 dead in February alone

Monday, 15 February 2010

Port Moresby (Agenzia Fides) – No case of cholera had been reported in Papua New Guinea (PNG) for 50 years. However, as of today, 45 people have died from the disease and since its first recorded case in August 2009, over 2,000 people across the country have contracted it, including 577 in the Morobe Province, 885 in Madang, and 602 in East Sepik. Initially, the disease had been found in temporary camps around the provincial capital of Lae, but it then spread into neighboring provinces. According to local health officials most of the area Momase is now infected. It is one of four areas of the island that includes the provinces of East Sepik (where out of about 602 cases treated, 16 deaths were reported), Madang, Morobe, and West Sepik. At the end of January, there were isolated cases even in the Eastern Highlands Province, and in the capital, Port Moresby. The situation is particularly serious in the East Sepik Province, where cholera has affected the districts of Wewak, Angoram and Ambunti, in addition to the area near Lake Murik. Here, the provincial health authorities have collaborated with the New Zealand team of Oxfam, Save the Children PNG, WHO, and Doctors Without Borders, to try to contain the epidemic. According to health experts, cholera, an acute intestinal infection, is largely due to lack of adequate sanitation and drinking water. Approximately 58% of the country's 6 million inhabitants have no access to drinking water and, despite having deployed tanks, buckets, and other essential tools, they are useless in the absence of rain. Many residents continue to use water from the Sepik River, the main source of water of Papua New Guinea, where traces of the bacterium Vibrio cholerae have been found. There is a danger that the disease will become endemic if the government does not immediately take action on the matter. (AP) (Agenzia Fides 15/2/2010)