BMJ News Reports On Calls For WHO To Control, Prevent Spread Of Cholera

BMJ News examines the growing pressure on the WHO to control and prevent the spread of cholera following the ongoing outbreak of the disease in Haiti.

According to the news service, during the WHO executive board meeting last week, member states voiced concerns that cholera “is not being adequately addressed despite its prevalence in epidemic form in many areas,” and called upon WHO Director-General Margaret Chan to move quickly to meet the needs of the countries affected by or at great risk of such outbreaks. “The board also asked Dr. Chan to strengthen the coordination of international assistance—in terms of equipment and human and financial resources—during cholera epidemics to ensure an effective and quick response.”

The article includes comments by Claire-Lise Chaignat, chief of WHO’s global taskforce on cholera control, who described how the 250,000 cases of cholera reported to the WHO in 2010 likely underestimates the problem. “WHO estimates the actual number of cases of cholera to be between three million and five million a year—much higher than the number reported, it says—and the number of deaths to be 100,000 to 130,000 a year. In 2009 a total of just over 220,000 cases were reported to WHO by 45 countries, a 16% rise on the number notified in 2008,” according to BMJ News.

The piece notes that “WHO is being asked to provide technical support to affected countries so that they can build their capacity for control and prevention, including surveillance, early warning and response, laboratory capacity, risk assessment, case management, data collection and monitoring, and deployment of vaccine,” and describes the executive board’s recommendations for countries to reduce the spread of cholera, such as greater efforts to educate the public about water and sanitation and improve country surveillance of outbreaks – all topics to be discussed again at the World Health Assembly meeting in May (Zarocostas, 1/26).

In related news, the Associated Press reports that a cholera outbreak in the Ivory Coast has claimed the lives of seven and affected 35 others, according to the country’s UNICEF head Sylvie Dossou (1/27). Also this week, the first death from cholera was reported in the Dominican Republic, which neighbors Haiti (Kaiser Daily Global Health Policy Report, 1/24).