April 13, 2006

Luanda, 13 April 2006 – As the outbreak of cholera is rapidly spreading in Luanda, capital of Angola, and to other parts of the country, the international humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) urges the Angolan authorities to officially declare the outbreak and immediately take all the necessary measures needed for controlling it.

Today, the total number of confirmed cases of cholera stands at 8,930, with 413 people reported to have died from the disease. At the end of last week, almost 250 new patients were arriving daily in MSF's cholera treatment centers. This week, that number has doubled to 500 new cases per day.

"We are afraid the outbreak is out of control," says Richard Veerman, MSF head of mission in Angola. "Cholera was already spreading at a very fast rate. Yesterday it started raining, which will only make it more difficult to stop the epidemic."

MSF is concerned about the apparent lack of urgency on the side of the Angolan authorities. Says Veerman, "The government should officially declare the cholera outbreak as an emergency and request immediate international assistance."

According to Veerman, "The authorities must dramatically increase the medical supplies and the number of health workers they make available for fighting cholera. They must do much more in providing safe drinking water to the population in and around affected areas. And they will have to dramatically step up their information campaign towards Angolans to increase awareness of what people can do to prevent infection, including in provinces that have not yet been reached by the outbreak."

Though collaboration with the Ministry of Health for administrative issues has been good, MSF urges the authorities to facilitate rapid clearance from customs of additional relief supplies. Materials such as Ringer lactate and chlorine need to be available immediately as MSF's stock is running low.

Since the beginning of the outbreak, almost 5,000 people have been treated by MSF in its five cholera treatment centers in Luanda. MSF is currently stepping up its activities in response to the outbreak by sending additional medical staff and materials to the provinces of Bengo, Benguela, Cuanza Norte, and Malanga. In Bengo, MSF opened a cholera center yesterday.

"Thus far we have been able to treat all cholera-infected people that have come to our centers," says Luis Encinas, medical emergency coordinator. "But the current trend of the epidemic suggests that we will see many more cases in the coming days and weeks. Our cholera centers are running at maximum capacity. Without a dramatically increased effort from others, starting with the authorities, we will probably see many more people fall ill and die."