Risk of a cholera outbreak in Syria

Risk of a cholera outbreak in Syria
The World Health Organisation has warned that Syria may see a cholera outbreak, and launched a $1 billion appeal in Geneva to get medical services to conflict areas.
3 min read
25 February, 2015
Vaccination coverage in Syria has dropped from 90% to 52% since 2011 (AFP/Getty)


There could be a cholera outbreak in Syria in the next few months, the World Health Organisation (WHO) warned on Tuesday.

The lack of safe water and poor sanitation, caused by the conflict, have led to a rise of other water-born diseases such as hepatitis A and typhoid. It is feared that cholera, an intenstinal disease caused by contaminated drinking water, will follow as the weather gets warmer, Reuters reported.

More than 31,000 cases of hepatitis A were reported in Syria last year and more than 1,000 cases have been recorded every week since January, said Dr Elizabeth Hoff, WHO representative in Syria, in a press briefing.

"This normally we see when the weather is warmer... But it just tells you people no longer have the same access to safe drinking water as before," Hoff said.

Since the conflict in Syria started in 2011, clean drinking water has been reduced to a third of its pre-conflict level, with water supplies often cut by the government as a war tactic. "Water has been used for political dividends and has been turned off to certain areas and that leads people to drink water from unsafe areas," Hoff said.

The organisation describes cholera as an acute intestinal infection caused by ingestion of food or water contaminated with the bacterium Vibrio cholerae. It has a short incubation period and can be very infectious. It leads to diarrhoea and vomiting, and can cause severe dehydration and death if it is not quickly treated. Children are particularly vulnerable.
The warning about cholera came on the same day that the WHO appealed for $1 billion in Geneva to help provide health services to millions - mostly women and children - in conflict areas in Syria, Iraq, Central African Republic and South Sudan.

More than half of the requested funds - $687 million - will be allocated to Syria, where 210,000 people have been killed in the conflict, and nearly half the population displaced.

The WHO described the appalling health situation in Syria, where more than half of all hospitals are only partially functioning or completely out of service, and where local medicine production is down by 70 percent, making it impossible to get hold of many life-saving treatments.

The number of doctors and other health workers in the country has dropped 45 percent since the conflict began in March 2011, and vaccination coverage has gone down from 90 percent to only 52 percent today.

At the same time, Syria is dealing with an average of 25,000 injuries each month and lacking surgical supplies, while a dramatic drop in access to safe water and overcrowding is leading to an increase in infectuous diseases.