EconomyFinancialAnother consequence of climate change: cholera is back in...

Another consequence of climate change: cholera is back in its deadliest form

In the fight against cholera “climate change is a new key factor to consider”, said the director of the WHO team dedicated to this disease, Philippe Barboza, regarding the recent increase in cholera cases in countries such as Syria or Haiti, among others.

In the first nine months of the year, 27 countries have reported cholera outbreaks, the United Nations said in a statement.

“We are not only seeing more outbreaks, but more deadly outbreaks. The data we have – which is limited – shows that the average case fatality rate so far this year is almost triple that of the last five years,” said the director of the UN agency, Tedros Adhanom Gebreyesus.

Although cholera is “easily treatable” with oral rehydration or antibiotics for the most severe cases, “the reality is that many people do not have access to these simple interventions,” Adhanom lamented, after citing the recent words of the UN director , Antonio Guterres: “This is not about generosity, but about justice”.

The climate crisis has occupied a good part of the declarations of the experts, for whom this challenge supposes a “new key factor” to take into account in the greater incidence of diseases such as cholera.

“Cholera thrives on poverty and conflict, but it is now being fueled by climate change,” Adhanom said, explaining that “extreme weather events like floods, cyclones and droughts reduce further access to clean water and create the ideal environment for the spread of cholera.

Haiti and Syria: the epicenters of the disease

In Syria, more than 10,000 suspected cases of cholera have been registered in the last six weeks, while in Haiti, after more than three years without cholera cases, 11 cases have been officially reported this week in the capital, Port-au-Prince, although “it is likely that the actual number of cases is significantly higher,” he explained.

The director of the WHO has valued this outbreak as “a particular setback” in Haiti, which was just preparing to be certified as a “cholera-free” country at the end of this year.

Ulrika Richardson, UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Haiti, warns that the true number of cases may be much higher.

Via videoconference, he said that for now the cases are mainly limited to the capital Port-au-Prince.

“With the current conditions in Haiti, and without good conditions being met, we are in fact facing an exponential and even explosive increase in cholera cases,” he warned.

“One would say that maybe the conditions are right for a perfect storm, unfortunately.”

A cholera epidemic in Haiti killed more than 10,000 people between 2010 and 2019.

Since the government announced hikes in gasoline prices on September 11, the already unstable country has been plagued by riots, looting and demonstrations.

Since mid-September, the country’s largest fuel import terminal, in Varreux, has been under the control of powerful armed gangs.

“That means the entire country is running out of fuel,” Richardson warns. Some hospitals and other health facilities remain closed and mountains of garbage flood the streets.

The water supply was interrupted, making it difficult to access clean water, a key element in the fight against a possible cholera epidemic.

Climate change, the key factor

While the other factors that usually explain cholera cases remain stable, something that “has changed drastically” in recent years is the impact of climate change, Barboza stressed, in relation to the severe droughts or monsoons that have affected many countries.

“This has really pushed the outbreak beyond what is normally seen during its presence, and the concern is that it will continue to increase in the coming years,” he added, to warn that more investment in water and sanitation is required to prevent cases.

His colleague Abdi Mahamud pointed out, for his part, that “the intersection between climate change, conflicts and the socioeconomic situation is making the situation worse.”

Tedros recalled that although cholera can kill in a matter of hours, it can be prevented with vaccinations and access to clean water and sanitation.

But with the growing number of outbreaks, vaccine supply can’t keep up with demand, so Dr Tedros urged the world’s leading vaccine makers to ramp up production.

“Families cannot buy soap to wash their hands, garbage is not collected in the streets, hospitals are closed or unable to function. All these ingredients have turned Haiti into a ticking time bomb for cholera. Now it has exploded.” said Bruno Maes, UNICEF representative in the Caribbean country.

With information from AFP and EFE

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