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MSF continues to fight cholera in Chad’s capital city
August 31, 2004
Brussels/N'Djamena, August 31, 2004. The cholera epidemic that emerged around mid-June in Chad is still raging, with more than 2,000 people infected, including 100 deaths. The new cholera treatment center built by Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in the capital city, N'Djamena, opened one week ago and is already full.
Built in four days, the MSF treatment center has been constantly filled to its 80-patient capacity. “Treatment is relatively easy if patients are found early enough,” explains Stéphane Heymans, MSF head of mission for Chad, recently back from N'Djamena. “Patients usually stay two or three days in the treatment center. We currently have a turnover of some 35 people each day.”
MSF activities at the cholera treatment center include consultations and hospitalization. It is staffed by local ministry of health personnel and run with the help of an MSF team of three international volunteers (one medical coordinator, one nurse, and one specialist in water and sanitation). MSF is also providing supplies, such as standard kits for treating cholera. MSF has treated 221 patients. Eight cases have been fatal.
One of the main problems with cholera is the stigma linked to the disease. “The local population is well aware that cholera is due to a lack of hygiene,” says Heymans. “So, people wait for the last moment to come to our center. When these patients arrive, the disease is already in a well-advanced stage.”
Controlling the spread of the disease is the other essential issue. In addition to treatment, it is crucial to isolate patients and disinfect their houses. “As soon as a sick person arrives at the cholera treatment center, one of our three mobile teams is sent to the person's home to spray chlorinated water inside the house and on clothes. This should protect the people still living on the premises,” explains a local MSF nurse.
The main objective of building the treatment center was to take some of the pressure off the existing Chadian health facilities, such as the “HÃ´pital Liberté.” This hospital has a capacity of 100 patients and is receiving 70 new cholera cases a day. The situation is extremely worrying in N'Djamena, which has around one million inhabitants, many of whom live in unsanitary conditions.
MSF has been working in Chad for 20 years. Part of the organization's role in the country is supporting the ministry of health in fighting cholera, meningitis, and measles epidemics. The last MSF intervention related to cholera was in 2001. At that time, 5,000 cases were registered.