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What’s fuelling the deadly cholera outbreak in Southern Africa?

What’s fuelling the deadly cholera outbreak in Southern Africa?

A severe cholera outbreak is currently ravaging communities in Southern Africa, spreading across borders in what experts say is the worst such crisis involving the illness that the region has seen in a decade. Thousands of people have died, and thousands of others have been infected with the acute diarrheal disease in at least seven countries. In some of the hardest-hit countries, the outbreak forced millions of students to stay back home in January.

Across the region, emergency response centres have sprung up in school fields and stadiums, and are teeming with groaning patients in pain. Fears are mounting that if the outbreak is not tackled soon, healthcare staff could be overwhelmed. In an emergency summoning to address the outbreak earlier this month, leaders of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) said they were working to stop the spread, but a lack of clean water, weak cross-border checks, and a global shortage of vaccines could test that resolve. Cholera typically spreads when people ingest water or food that’s contaminated.

The disease is common in areas with poor sanitation, or in conflict zones where drinking water sources might be contaminated with faecal matter or wastewater from sewers. Although endemic to Africa and parts of Asia, experts say it’s rare for several countries to experience outbreaks simultaneously, as is the case in southern Africa. The outbreak was likely triggered by a cocktail of issues, rather than a single event. Regular, unchecked cross-border movement, for example, means infections can be transported, Poor sewage systems, alongside inadequate clean water sources for drinking, cooking and hygiene are also a persistent problem in the region. Increasingly frequent and more severe flooding linked to climate change has an impact too, experts have said.

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