It’s impossible to turn on the news in Nigeria without hearing about the threatened Cholera epidemic. So far, several dozen people have died of the disease and over three hundred are known to be affected. The statistics are scary, especially when you think of how devastating the disease could be.
As keepers of the home, we could panic and run for cover, but that would only be like burying our heads in the sand, it’s counter productive. What we should do instead, is arm ourselves with as much knowledge as we can, and fight this thing head on. We will ensure that our family is protected and learn as much as we need to in order to educate those around us.
Below is some basic information about cholera. We can stop this disease one household at a time.
Cholera remains as one of the diseases that continue to indicate levels of social development, particularly in areas where no minimum level of hygiene has been formally designated. Developing countries can be constantly challenged by the need to provide access to safe drinking water as they battle to avert and treat cholera outbreaks.
Causes of Cholera
Cholera results when people ingest food and/or water that is contaminated with Vibrio cholera bacterium. It causes a severe infection in the intestines that commonly presents with symptoms such as frequent and large volumes of thin diarrhea as well as vomiting. These symptoms can lead to severe dehydration and death. Vibrio cholera bacterium thrives in brackish water, as well as estuaries and these conditions have been shown to be exacerbated by global warming as demonstrated by the growth of algal blooms.
In areas where basic infrastructure that provides clean water for human consumption is not available, Vibrio cholera bacterium can thrive. These areas include those whose sanitation infrastructure has been destroyed by a natural disaster, refugee camps for displaced peoples as well as peri-urban slums where access to fresh, clean water is not available.
In terms of specific areas where Vibrio cholera bacterium is active, South East Asian countries and parts of Africa are particularly prone. Most recently, the threat of an epidemic in Nigeria has given rise to concern and alarm. The availability and indeed the right to consume fresh water is a given in first world countries so that it is easy to forget that third world countries can face an often insurmountable challenge to provide it.
Treatment and Cure
If a cholera outbreak occurs, the recognized treatment in the short term is by way of oral vaccination. Dukoral and Shanchol are both used to provide up to two years protection against Vibrio cholera bacterium in children under the age of five years. The World Health Organization stresses that the vaccinations are a short term solution for those people living in areas that are considered to be endemic, or for those who are at high risk due to an emergency situation. They also stress that short term treatment should never replace long term prevention.
For countries located in endemic areas, the most effective prevention measures lie in providing access to fresh, clean water as well as appropriate sanitation. In addition to these measures, education relating to basic hygiene is also critical to controlling and preventing cholera outbreaks. It should also be noted that without access to fresh, clean water, maintaining basic standards of hygiene is difficult if not impossible for many people.
Providing clean water and basic sanitation to communities can be a huge challenge for third world countries however it is the most critical factor in preventing outbreaks of cholera. Having access to clean water ensures that hand washing prior to preparing and eating food, is an achievable goal. Likewise, the same is true for hand washing post defecation. Clean water for washing and food preparation is just as important as having clean water for drinking when it comes to Vibrio cholera bacterium. Brackish or unclean water simply provides an attractive breeding ground for Vibrio cholera bacterium.
Health education at the community level is also important, but it should always be remembered that without access to fresh water, any amount of health education will be less effective. Radio and TV can be an effective means of mass education for communities and perhaps one of the major benefits of appropriate health education is that it can empower communities with the knowledge as to why having access to clean water is so important. Lobbying for access to clean water becomes meaningful when people understand the benefits that it can bring to their communities in terms of complying with basic standards of hygiene.
Yes, cholera remains endemic in many third world countries and will remain so while access to clean water is out of reach for so many urban and rural communities. Providing clean water and basic sanitation is the key to preventing cholera, as well as treating it when an outbreak occurs. Education programs for food preparation and preservation, as well as basic hygiene, become meaningful when access to fresh water is a given, rather than a far off dream. Until access to clean water becomes freely available, contamination with Vibrio cholera bacterium will always be a risk in endemic areas.