Trying To Halt Cholera in Angola: Access to Safe and Free Water Not Guaranteed

White flag with red logo of Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) against sunny blue sky

© Valérie Batselaere/MSF

In many areas of Luanda, like Boa Vista shanty, hygiene conditions are very poor and people do not have access to clean drinking water. Photo © Paco Arevalo/MSF

Luanda, Angola, May 17, 2006 – The disastrous state of the water supply and sanitation infrastructure in Luanda and other large cities is the principal reason for the rapid spread of cholera in Angola. As of May 14, more than 34,000 people have fallen ill with cholera (17,500 in Luanda alone) and over 1,200 have died. Though the Angolan authorities have taken some initiatives to limit the spread of the disease, the international humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) calls for a dramatically stepped up emergency intervention by the Government of Angola and international agencies.


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Crucial to the containment of the outbreak is the provision of large amounts of free-of-charge water to cholera-affected areas, particularly in the shantytowns of Angola's capital. More than 4.5 million people live in Luanda, over two-thirds of them in shantytowns without access to running water. In these areas, over 70 percent of the people pay high prices for water from private suppliers. This water is transported in trucks to water vendors who sell it by the bucket to families. As a result, people make do with insufficient quantities of water. Combined with poor sanitation facilities and the virtual absence of sewage and rubbish collection, this creates perfect conditions for waterborne diseases such as cholera to spread through the slums like wildfire.

"Cholera is right in its element in the shantytowns of Luanda," says David Noguera, emergency coordinator for MSF in Angola. "Concurrent to our efforts to provide treatment, preventive measures, such as a massive emergency intervention to provide free-of-charge water in the affected areas, are needed. This must be done immediately in order to prevent many more people from becoming infected. If nothing is done to improve water supply and sanitation, this outbreak could continue on this scale for months to come."

The first cases of cholera were found in February in the Boa Vista shantytown in Luanda. Since then, the outbreak has spread to other parts of the country, with cases now reported in 11 of Angola's 18 provinces. But Luanda has been particularly hard hit: more than half of the infected people live in the capital city and approximately 20 percent of the deaths have occurred there. Not a single corner of the vast city has been spared from the epidemic.

As the outbreak is far from over, more needs to be done to ensure early detection and treatment of patients, and to limit the spread of the outbreak. Every day sees between 500 and 700 new cases and an average of ten deaths. In response to the epidemic, MSF is today operating ten cholera treatment centers (CTCs) in Luanda, with a total capacity of 700 beds. The organization has also set up CTCs in Benguela, Bengo, Malanje, Biè, Huila, Huambo, Kuanza Norte and Uige.

Thus far, MSF has sent approximately 400 tons of medical and logistical supplies to Angola in response to the outbreak. The MSF teams total more than 70 international and 1,000 national staff.