Voice of America (Washington, DC)

4 June 2014

South Sudan: Cholera Outbreak Shuts Down Food Stalls

Food vendors and tea sellers in Juba say they are being forced out of business as South Sudanese health officials step up hygiene inspections to try to stem the spread of cholera in the capital.

Twenty-nine people have died and more than 1,200 have been infected in the recent outbreak, which this week was reported to have spread beyond Juba.

When officials in Juba declared on May 15 there was a cholera outbreak, the mayor of the capital, Christopher Sarafino, said health inspectors would be traveling around the city, shutting down restaurants and tea stalls that did not follow proper hygiene procedures such as having indoor toilets and washrooms and using treated water to wash crockery.

Many food vendors in Juba have been breaking those rules for years by cooking in the open air. This is especially the case in Juba's Nyakuron market, where on Wednesday only a handful of women were still cooking food in the open, running the risk of being shut down by health inspectors and losing what is sometimes the sole source of income for their family.

Shrinking customer base

One of the women, Lukia Chandilu, said the number of people who eat at her stall has dropped since the cholera outbreak began.

"We are just facing so many problems," Chandilu said. "I used to have some customers in my business. These days they have reduced. They are saying they don't want us to prepare food because we are in an open place," she said.

Health inspectors say they have to crack down and enforce the rules to save lives. Cholera is transmitted through contaminated food or water and can kill within 24 hours through rapid dehydration, if left untreated. Children and people with weakened immune systems -- such as those suffering from malnutrition -- are especially vulnerable.

Since the cholera came, I am not making any profit. I don't make anything... There is no money at all.

Juba tea seller Lona Bitara

Chandilu said she has set up a handwashing facility and uses clean water to wash her dishes and utensils. But she still prepares food in the open and officials have told her she needs to move to a permanent facility. She said she can't afford to do that.

Lona Bitara relies on the income she makes selling tea in the market to feed her three children and unemployed husband. She said the cholera outbreak is forcing her to shut down her small business.

"Since the cholera came, I am not making any profit. I don't make anything. I don't get any money. There is no money at all," she said.

Food prices skyrocket

Lupayi Twaha is a local merchant who sells corn, cassava and beans in the market. He said he can no longer afford to buy food to feed himself because prices have skyrocketed.

"We used to get food at five pounds. Nowadays, even from big hotels, it is at 30 pounds," he said. "It has become very difficult for us to get that money. We are suffering here."

But Justin Jogo, a security guard, said he was thankful for the health inspectors' stepped-up vigilance in the midst of the cholera outbreak.

Enforcing hygiene rules and being careful about the conditions food is prepared in is better than getting cholera, he said. "On the way to work, I will not buy things that are outside. Things that are not covered, I will not buy because of cholera," he said.

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