The number of cholera cases this year in the Democratic Republic of Congo could far surpass the total for 2011.Cholera is an acute intestinal infection caused by contaminated food or water. U.N. officials are calling for an increase in prevention programs in a country where the disease has become endemic.
U.N. humanitarian spokesman Yvon Edoumou described the cholera situation in the DRC as bleak.
"In 2011, we had about 22,000 cases of cholera throughout the country. So far, for the first three months of 2012 we have just about 8,000 cases. So we're looking at already 40 percent of the total caseload that was reported last year. At the current rate that we're going by the end of 2012 we'll be well above the caseload for last year," he said.
The cholera problem is especially bad in the Eastern DRC. South Kivu is the most affected province with more than 2,200 cases.
"So far the numbers are quite high. Just an example, for the whole of last year in Eastern DRC we had 150 deaths.So far for this year we have 77 deaths. I'm talking about Eastern DRC. So we're already at the 50 percent of the total number of deaths last year," he said.
For all of DRC, 120 cholera deaths have been reported from January to March.
Edoumou is with the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs or OCHA and is based in the capital Kinshasa. He said it's difficult to stay ahead of the outbreak.
"Cholera is linked to water and sanitation and DRC is a country that for many, many years has had a very dysfunctional water and sanitation system in terms of sewage, in terms of draining, in terms of access to clean water. And it is not something that goes away just by snapping your fingers," said Edoumou.
The United Nations, the Congolese government, local and international NGOs have joined forces to provide cholera education and prevention programs as well as treatment centers.
The World Health Organization said the most important treatment is rehydration. It replaces water and salts lost through severe diarrhea and vomiting. Most patients can be rehydrated quickly by drinking large amounts of oral rehydration salts. However, some may need intravenous fluid.