Cholera in BurundiThe World Health Organization (WHO) has identified more than 1,000 cases of cholera in cities across the Republic of Burundi. Burundi is an East African country that has been plagued by violence, disease and poor sanitation for years. Most of the population lives in rural areas where drinking water is unsafe and sanitation practices are nearly non-existent. This has created the perfect storm for cholera to spread quickly across the country. It has led to six deaths from an otherwise treatable disease. Below are nine facts about the outbreak of cholera in the Republic of Burundi.

9 Facts about Cholera in Burundi

  1. Cholera is a gastrointestinal infection caused by bacteria. Generally, it is attributed to unsafe drinking
    water and often associated with raw or undercooked fish. It is transmitted from person to person through oral-fecal contamination due to improper sanitation and poor hygiene.
  2. This outbreak started in a time of political peril in Burundi. Rebel forces and the country’s army are fighting across rural areas, which is displacing people. Instability and lack of security make it difficult for people to find safety and sources of income. This has created a high level of poverty for Burundi’s people and exacerbated the poor water conditions.
  3. Most patients are displaced persons (IDPs) from rural Bujumbura. Fighting in Bujumbura became so violent that the government moved the capital to Gitega in February 2019. When the capital moved, many people were left without the support and resources of the government.
  4. Treatment usually takes several days per patient. Patients typically present symptoms related to dehydration. Dehydration occurs because of the excessive vomiting and diarrhea that comes with cholera. Patients are usually treated with an oral rehydration solution made up of a sugar and salt mixture in clean water. In extreme situations, patients may need intravenous fluids and antibiotics.
  5. Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has three treatment centers for cholera in Burundi where professionals are trained and supervised. The goal of these facilities is to provide free patient care and increase the local public health staff. These centers provide care when most of the hospitals are unable to respond to the needs of cholera patients. MSF has also set up a 50-person treatment center in Bujumbura.
  6. Sterilization is a very important part of reducing the spread of cholera, so the MSF staff uses a chlorine solution to disinfect the center. This reduces the chances of another outbreak or infecting the staff. This solution can also be used to disinfect the homes of families who have been infected.
  7. Disinfecting isn’t the only solution to preventing the spread of cholera because the problem is directly related to the distribution of water. Without proper containment of poor water sources, the disease will continue to spread. To ameliorate the risks of cholera related to unsafe drinking water, MSF installed two water distribution bladders in the most affected areas. These bladders supply 30,000 liters of potable water.
  8. UNICEF has been providing cholera kits to people in Burundi. There are four different kinds of kits to help with various aspects of need. UNICEF has also established two cholera treatment centers to control the spread of the disease.
  9. To avoid contamination, experts suggest drinking disinfected water and eating a balanced, thoroughly cooked diet. Organizations like WHO are emphasizing the importance of washing hands frequently with soap and water or an alcohol-based sanitizer to reduce the risk of transmission.

Cholera is an easily treatable and preventable disease that occurs in poverty-stricken areas with poor sanitation. Many organizations have reached out to add potable water sources and aid by training the people of Burundi to treat and prevent the disease themselves. With rebel fighting and insurgent forces crossing the country, the disease is projected to spread to further areas of rural poverty.

Kaylee Seddio, PhD
Photo: Iwacu