A cholera outbreak in overcrowded refugee camps in Uganda has killed
40 people and infected more than 2,000 as health workers rush to stem the spread, aid agencies said.
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) said 70,000 people from the Democratic Republic of Congo had fled to Uganda this year due to a surge in ethnic violence.
The IFRC said many had been infected with cholera as its emergency operations coordinator, Andreas Sandin said the waterborne disease had spread rapidly since
mid-February due to poor sanitation and lack of clean water in the.
“The risk is definitely not over yet,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone, adding that aid agencies had set up treatment centres and were trucking in water in response.
“Most people recover from cholera if treated promptly with oral rehydration salts, but can die within hours if not,” it said.
The IFRC said the people fleeing Congo’s Ituri province cross Lake Albert in boats to reach Uganda.
It said more than 80 per cent of the arrivals were women and children, with many in poor health.
“Most arrive exhausted, traumatised and with limited personal belongings,” said Robert Kwesiga, secretary-general of the Uganda Red Cross Society. Their children lack even the most basic clothing,” it added.
The IFRC said the influx has placed “unprecedented strain” on health facilities not used to accommodating refugees.
People are sleeping back-to-back in makeshift hangars as reception centres along the shore of the lake are overwhelmed, according to medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres, which said the risk of a measles outbreak in the camps is also high.
The UN refugee agency expects at least 200,000 refugees to reach Uganda from Congo’s Ituri region this year, after clashes between the Lendu and Hema people ended 15 years of relative peace in the area.
Congo is also dealing with its worst cholera outbreak in decades, which killed more than 1,000 people in 2017.
According to the WHO, as of March, cases in the capital Kinshasa declined but the situation remained “alarming”.