Aid workers conducting cholera awareness campaigns in Niger. Credit: UNICEF Niger
LEAD: UNICEF and WHO receive $1m to respond to the epidemic.
Three-year-old Djamilatu was rushed to a nearby health centre after suffering from diarrhoea and abdominal pain, common symptoms of cholera. “She was in a bad state,” said her mother, Aichatou Abdou. “She thought she would die. She’s still scared.”
This year alone, nearly 4,000 cholera cases and over 80 deaths have been reported in Niger. The majority of cases are along the Niger River which recently flooded after heavy rains in the west of the country. Communities living on the tiny islands in the river are extremely vulnerable to the highly contagious disease, because they have limited access to healthcare and sanitation facilities.
Earlier this month, the UN Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) allocated US$1 million to UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO) to support the Nigerien Government’s efforts to respond to the epidemic.
“The rapid disbursement of CERF funds has been critical to supporting UNICEF, WHO and Government efforts to prevent the spread of cholera and provide essential medicines to treat affected people,” said Guido Cornale, UNICEF’s representative in Niger. “Funds will help support clean water, sanitation and hygiene promotion activities in communities at risk and will contribute to improving access to clean water and improved sanitation in refugee camps threatened by cholera.”
The local authorities have taken the lead in providing treatment, and distributing medical supplies and hygiene kits to health centres. Social workers have been mobilized to help communities learn how to prevent infections.
With the funding, UNICEF has been able to spread cholera prevention messages throughout the neighbourhoods at risk, including in refugee camps where thousands of displaced Malians have taken shelter. The agency has also distributed water purification supplies.
Djamilatou recovered after five days of treatment at a health centre on Kandadji Island.
“She feels much better now,” said her mother. “At the health centre, she was given only clean drinking water. Now, we drink water from the well in the next village or we treat the river water before drinking it.”
Reporting by UNICEF/ Shushan Mebrahtu