Outbreaks in the Eastern Mediterranean Region
Cholera, MERS and influenza continue to devastate the Eastern Mediterranean Region. This region, found near the Mediterranean Sea, consists of the Levant, the Middle East and North Africa. Fortunately, the World Health Organization (WHO) monitors and records these outbreaks in the Eastern Mediterranean Region in order to better understand epidemic trends.

Each epidemic consists of different symptoms that can be lethal if the individual does not undergo proper treatment. Unfortunately, a majority of the countries within the Eastern Mediterranean Region lack access to the medication and proper public health infrastructure necessary to combat these epidemics. As a result, cholera, MERS and influenza are major public health problems that affect a large population of citizens.

Defining Cholera

Cholera is a bacterial disease spread through contaminated drinking water or food. Symptoms consist of diarrhea and dehydration, and if cholera is left untreated, the symptoms could worsen to seizures and, ultimately, lead to death.

Cholera is quite common among developing states due to a lack of sanitation and infrastructural advancements. Somalia, a country in Africa, is consistently faced with cholera outbreaks. In fact, the last outbreak was August 23, 2018, in which the Ministry of Health discovered 39 new cases since August 16 of that same year. They found that approximately 72 percent of new cases were children under the age of five, and in August 2018, the Ministry of Health recorded 230 cholera cases overall.

The number of cases per week continue to fluctuate, with some weeks showing 151 to 344 new cases. Yemen, which is located South of Saudi Arabia in the Middle East, possesses the world’s worst outbreak with approximately 220,000 cases reported as of 2017. BBC reports that 1,300 people have died, with 25 percent being children. Now, there are about 10,000 suspected cases weekly, and numbers are expected to rise.

These statistics are disheartening, yet the World Health Organization is helping to decrease cholera. The WHO has a Global Task Force on cholera control in this region. This task force has led to initiatives — such as the launch of the Cholera Kits — which prepare families for an upcoming outbreak for the first month, decreasing their chances of contracting the illness. WHO has also planned “Ending Cholera: A Global Roadmap to 2030,” which will monitor water sources, administer vaccinations and construct sanitary networks and healthcare systems. They have also given families in hotspots the oral cholera vaccine.

Impacts of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome

Middle East Respiratory Syndrome is a respiratory illness with symptoms such as fever, cough, dizziness and shortness of breath. This disease can be fatal if not treated correctly. MERS is extremely rare within industrialized countries, yet it does frequently occur in developing countries.

Saudi Arabia is one of the many victims of the MERS outbreak, and astonishingly accounts for 83.2 percent of new cases. The World Health Organization reports that Saudi Arabia had 1861 new cases of MERS in July 2018, and about 719 of those individuals died, which makes the fatality rate 38.6 percent. The fatality rate increased by 3.1 percent since June 2018.

MERS is an epidemic with devastating impacts on society; thankfully, WHO is learning more about this illness through international and local conventions that discuss implementation goals and research. Recently, the WHO hosted a convention in which scientists, doctors and researchers discussed the outbreak of MERS.

They delved into the correlation between human and animal health, research projects/initiatives and preventative methods. The disease was only discovered in 2012 so there is still a lot the world does not know about MERS, but thankfully, organizations like WHO are continually making efforts to understand the epidemic.

Ramifications of Influenza

Influenza is a viral infection transmitted through contaminated surfaces, contact and saliva. Its symptoms include fever, cough, congestion, fatigue and muscle aches. Influenza is one of the outbreaks in the Eastern Mediterranean Region dependent upon seasonal changes and is a common global phenonmenon. Despite its preventability and treatability in developed countries, in other parts of the world, it can be deadly — especially among high-risk groups.

Egypt, Qatar and Iraq were the only countries that reported a high-level of influenza activity —  each reported a higher rate of the H1N1 strain. The number of cases of influenza continue to decrease, particularly in the month of July, and WHO continues to help decrease the number of influenza cases through research improvements. WHO continues to monitor influenza and its strains while also creating the “Global Influenza Surveillance & Response System” in order to teach states how to prepare for influenza.

They have given the Eastern Mediterranean Region technical support in order to better responses to influenza, and also funded projects to better influenza treatment — such as building new, advanced laboratories and upgrading surveillance programs in collaboration with the Ministry of Health and Populations.

Preventative Measures

Although the outbreaks are devastating, the World Health Organization perservers in its fight against outbreaks in the Eastern Mediterranean Region through inter-organizational collaboration, science conventions and advanced surveillance programs. With groups like WHO actively researching and collecting data, the progress in preventing cholera, MERS and influenza is an ever-increasing occurrence.

Diana Hallisey
Photo: Flickr