September 08, 2009

A high number of cholera cases have been found in the small city of Wasu in the first known cholera outbreak in Papua New Guinea in 50 years. Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is assisting health authorities by treating people affected by the already deadly outbreak at the local Angau hospital.

As of September 3, 95 cases—and nine deaths—have been confirmed in Wasu, a community of 12,000 people located in the Morobe Province on the eastern side of the island of New Guinea. The disease also seems to have spread to Lae, the capital of Morobe Province and the country's second largest metropolitan area. There, 11 patients have been admitted to Angau hospital and three have died.

In cooperation with the ministry of health, MSF has set up a cholera treatment center in the Angau hospital. An isolation ward has been established, which includes disinfection points and footbaths. MSF’s emergency team has sent seven additional staff, including three nurses and a water and sanitation specialist, to assist in the urgent response.

Cholera is a highly contagious disease. Caused by the bacteria Vibrio cholerae, cholera is excreted by an infected person in stool and vomit and can spread rapidly to other people, especially in poor hygienic conditions, where it can contaminate food and water supplies. If infected, a patient may require up to two gallons of intravenous fluid on the first day. Death usually occurs when a patient loses 15 percent of his or her total body weight. People, particularly young children, can die within a day in severe cases if no treatment is given.

In addition to the cholera outbreak in Wasu and Lae, outbreaks of influenza A (H1N1) and shigella have been identified in Menyama, also in the Morobe Province. MSF is currently assessing the situation.

MSF has worked in Papua New Guinea since 2007. MSF supports a clinic in the eastern city of Lae, the country's second largest metropolitan area. In September 2008, MSF started providing surgical care for victims of violence in the local hospital in Tari, a town in the western part of the island.

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