Cholera is surging around the globe, the World Health Organization warns.
Flareups of the deadly disease have been reported in 26 countries in the first nine months of this year. In comparison, fewer than 20 countries reported cholera outbreaks per year between 2017 and 2021. In addition to greater frequency, the WHO reports the outbreaks themselves are larger and more deadly.
While poverty and conflict are major triggers of cholera, climate change is a growing threat.
Philippe Barboza, WHO team lead for Cholera and Epidemic Diarrheal Diseases, said climate change presents an additional layer of complexity and creates the conditions for cholera outbreaks to explode.
“This is what we have seen in southern Africa with the succession of cyclones that affected the eastern part of the African Coast,” Barboza said. “The drought in East Africa is driving population movements, reducing access to water, which is already needed. So, of course, it is a key factor, which is fueling the outbreak. And the same in Sahel and other places.”
Fifteen of the 26 cholera-infected countries are in Africa, according to the WHO.
Barboza said massive climate-induced floods in Southeast Asia also have resulted in large outbreaks of cholera in Pakistan and Bangladesh. Many countries that have made significant progress in controlling cholera are now back to square one, he added.
Cholera is an acute diarrheal disease caused by contaminated food or water. It can kill within hours if left untreated. Cholera outbreaks can be prevented by ensuring access to clean water, basic sanitation, and hygiene, as well as stepping up surveillance and access to health care, Barboza said.
“This is what we need countries to do, but that is easier said than done. Although many of the cholera-affected countries are actively engaged in these efforts, they are facing multiple crises, including conflict and poverty, and this is why international action is so important,” he said.
Cholera is a preventable and treatable disease, Barboza said, so with the right foresight and action, the current global crisis can be reversed.