Worst cholera outbreak since 2017 affecting children in Congo: UNICEF

DRC reported more cholera cases in the first seven months of 2023 than all of 2022

By Madhumita Paul
Published: Monday 21 August 2023
Photo: iStock

Since 2017, conflict and displacement in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has gone up and due to this, the country's children are facing the worst cholera crisis, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said. 

Cholera cases are under-reported globally. An estimated 2.9 million cases and 95,000 deaths occur annually. It is endemic in several parts of DRC, with about 189,000 cases reported every year. 

In 2017, various parts of Congo, including the capital Kinshasa, have been affected by cholera, with almost 55,000 cases and more than 1,100 deaths.

There have been at least 31,342 suspected or confirmed cholera cases and 230 deaths, many of them children, in the first seven months of 2023 across DRC, said UNICEF. 

This is much more than the total of 18,403 suspected cases of cholera in the entire year or 12 months in 2022. With the rise in cholera cases spread across 19 of the 26 provinces last year, DRC was stated as a statistically significant contributor to the global epidemiology of cholera.

The province of North Kivu was the worst-affected. It has seen more than 21,400 confirmed or suspected cholera cases in 2023. This included more than 8,000 children under five, according to the ministry of public health, DRC.

In all of 2022, the province had recorded 5,120 cases, with 1,200 for children under five years.

On December 14, 2022, a cholera epidemic was officially declared by the governor of the province of North Kivu. 

Shameza Abdulla, UNICEF DRC Senior Emergency Coordinator, based in Goma said:

If urgent action is not taken within the next months, there is a significant risk that the disease will spread to parts of the country that have not been affected for many years. There is also the danger it will continue to spread in displacement sites where systems are already overwhelmed and the population — especially children — is highly vulnerable to illness and — potentially — death. Displaced families have already been through so much.

6.3 million displaced internally 

More than 6.3 million people have been internally displaced in DRC — the highest in Africa. As many as 1.5 million people, including over 800,000 children, were displaced in the country's eastern provinces North Kivu, South Kivu and Ituri provinces since January 2023, said UNICEF.

The overcrowded displacement camps have become the breeding grounds for cholera transmission. 

Cholera is mainly linked to insufficient access to safe drinking water and inadequate sanitation. 

Investigations by the ministry of public health in May and June in households with cholera cases in North Kivu’s four biggest hotspots found that 62-99 per cent of cholera-affected households were families that had been displaced this year. 

The survey also showed that families living in cholera hotspots faced multiple other health risks, including malnutrition and lack of access to prenatal care and vaccinations.

To combat this emergency, UNICEF has called for $62.5 million to enhance its prevention and response activities to cholera and water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) crisis for the next five months. It seeks to reach 1.8 million people, including 1 million children.

Currently, just 9 per cent of the funds have been raised, signaling a dire need for international support.

Subscribe to Daily Newsletter :

Comments are moderated and will be published only after the site moderator’s approval. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name. Selected comments may also be used in the ‘Letters’ section of the Down To Earth print edition.