Dakar — A cholera outbreak across Nigeria has killed 24 people and infected 952 in the first four weeks of 2014, following a surge in cases last year, according to the Ministry of Health.
The number of cholera cases went up more than tenfold in the West African country in 2013. There were 597 cases and 18 deaths in 2012 compared to 6,600 cases and 229 deaths last year, according to the latest government epidemiological report.
Kano State was the worst affected at the beginning of 2014 with 234 cases and 12 deaths. Neighbouring Bauchi state, which had reported five cases in early January, reported an additional 237 cases in the last week of the month as the disease spread.
Lab samples taken from both states have confirmed the disease to be cholera.
Bauchi state neighbours Yobe State, one of three states in northeastern Nigeria where an Islamist insurgency and the military's counter-offensive has driven over 5,000 people across the border into Niger and Cameroon since mid-January, according to the U.N. refugee agency.
Christophe Valingot, a water and sanitation expert at the European Union's humanitarian aid arm ECHO said if cholera spreads to the northeastern states the impact would be disastrous.
"The health system capacity is completely lost in those states and the medical officers have fled, which means the affected people wouldn't have the necessary care that they should receive in this situation," said Valingot, adding there were already cholera cases reported in neighbouring Niger.
"There already cases reported in Maradi and Diffa in Niger. The fact that there were no cases reported since 2011 around the Chad Lake also means that people are more susceptibility to be infected by cholera," he said.
In 2011, a cholera outbreak infected 40,000 people in Nigeria and around 80,000 people throughout the region, said Valingot.
A diarrhoeal disease, cholera can be managed with good hygiene and sanitation as well as basic health kits and oral rehydration solution, a cheap and readily available mixture of salts and sugars. Left untreated, it can cause death in up to 50 percent of cases.
UNICEF has been supporting Nigeria's Ministry of Health and Rural Water and Sanitation Agencies to respond to the outbreak, including provision of essential supplies, a UNICEF spokesman told Thomson Reuters Foundation by email.
"The outbreaks have been investigated by the FMOH (Federal Ministry of Health) in Kwara, Lagos, Nasarawa, Ogun, Oyo, Plateau and Zamfara States and are under control," said the report.