Cholera toll in Angola tops 1,300, group says

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JOHANNESBURG, South Africa (AP) – The death toll from a 3-month-old cholera epidemic in Angola has exceeded 1,300 people and the number is rising daily, an aid group said Wednesday.

Richard Veerman of Medecins Sans Frontieres told reporters in South Africa at least 31 people had died in the last 24 hours from the waterborne, bacterial disease. He said that although 31 was the official tally, the real toll could be three times higher.

The outbreak has infected more than 35,000 people, and illustrates how Africa is being crippled by preventable diseases because of poverty and a lack of infrastructure. The U.N. has said the fatality rate of the outbreak is about 4 percent, far above the 1 percent the World Health Organization considers average.

Cholera can be treated easily, but is a major killer in developing countries. It is transmitted through contaminated water and is linked to poor hygiene, overcrowding and inadequate sanitation.

Medecins Sans Frontieres, also known as Doctors Without Borders, called on the Angolan government, the U.N. and international aid agencies to speed the delivery of clean, safe water in Angola and to make sure those who fall ill get treatment quickly.

David Watherill, Medecins Sans Frontieres director of water and sanitation, said the cholera epidemic began in mid-February, about six weeks after a program ended to chlorinate water for the Luanda section of the Angolan capital.

The cholera epidemic first surfaced in the slums, a vast, squalid wasteland of shacks and refuse that is home to millions. Most have no running water or latrines.

“Most people are living on a huge rubbish dump without any services,” said Watherill. He said water for slum dwellers is trucked in daily, and some tankers have brought in untreated river water.

Watherill and Veerman said that in April, heavy rains and drainage problems caused in part by mountains of rubbish flooded many homes with water contaminated by human waste.

The flooding spread cholera first in Luanda and later to at least 11 other parts of Angola.

“I have never seen anything quite like this,” said Watherill. “I’m not sure if this epidemic is near its peak.”

AP-ES-05-17-06 1721EDT

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