Namibia: A quick and coordinated response saves lives

28 May 2014

April 2014, Windhoek, Namibia: International and local aid groups have rallied to respond to an outbreak of cholera on the outskirts of the Namibian capital Windhoek. Credit: OCHA
A rapid response from international aid groups helped prevent the spread of cholera in the suburbs of the Namibian capital.

Katutura, on the outskirts of Windhoek, is a destination for people migrating from rural areas in search of a better life. The 200,000 people who live here are poor, and they have limited access to clean water and sanitation.

“There are no toilets around here” said Issy Kandjose, a Katutura resident. “People just go to the bathroom anywhere,” he continued as he picked up his three-year-old daughter and pointed to the tree-shaded area where she had been playing just minutes before.

“All the ingredients for a widespread urban outbreak of cholera are there,” explained Dr Monir Islam, the World Health Organization (WHO) Representative in Namibia.

So when, in February of this year, cholera was first reported in Katutura, the Government and humanitarian agencies immediately swung into action.

Sharing the load

Herero Mall is an informal market in Katutura, where any service, from welding and car repairs to restaurants and shebeens (illegal bars) can be found. People often resort to open defecation against the flimsy walls of these buildings as there are no alternatives. A few streets away stands the Single Quarters, an open market where meat and other foods are spread out on tables waiting to be sold.

At the onset of the epidemic OCHA, the UN Children’s Fund, the International Organization for Migratio (IOM), WHO, the Namibian Red Cross Society, and the United States Center for Disease Control and Prevention came together to support the Government response.

Multiple, national-level Government ministries were involved in the response, alongside regional and city authorities. All partners were able to bring unique capacities to bear. Amongst other things, this included providing training on diagnosis, treatment and case management to medical staff, as well as education and outreach materials for local authorities and Red Cross volunteers. The US NGO AmeriCares also provided medical supplies through IOM.

Crisis contained

This rapid and coordinated response helped contain the outbreak. Only 70 cholera cases were reported in Katutura with two deaths, and no new cases have been reported since 23 April.

In November 2013, a cholera outbreak in Kunene in northern Namibia caused 493 cases and 15 deaths.

In order to eliminate the threat of an urban epidemic completely, local authorities and aid groups continue to monitor the situation closely and are ready to mobilize if necessary.

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