Dakar — A cholera outbreak in overcrowded refugee camps in Uganda has killed about 40 people and infected more than 2,000 as health workers rush to stem the spread, aid agencies said on Thursday.
Nearly 70,000 people from the Democratic Republic of Congo have fled to Uganda this year due to a surge in ethnic violence, and many have been infected with cholera, said the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC).
The waterborne disease has spread rapidly since mid-February due to poor sanitation and lack of clean water in the camps, said IFRC emergency operations coordinator Andreas Sandin.
"The risk is definitely not over yet," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone, adding that aid agencies have set up treatment centres and are trucking in water in response.
Most people recover from cholera if treated promptly with oral rehydration salts, but can die within hours if not.
The people fleeing Congo's Ituri province cross Lake Albert in boats to reach Uganda. More than 80 percent of the arrivals are women and children, with many in poor health, said the IFRC.
"Most arrive exhausted, traumatised and with limited personal belongings," said Robert Kwesiga, secretary general of the Uganda Red Cross Society.
"Their children lack even the most basic clothing."
The influx has placed "unprecedented strain" on health facilities not used to accommodating refugees, the IFRC said.
People are sleeping back-to-back in makeshift hangars as reception centres along the shore of the lake are overwhelmed, according to medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres, which said the risk of a measles outbreak in the camps is also high.
The United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) expects at least 200,000 refugees to reach Uganda from Congo's Ituri region this year, after clashes between the Lendu and Hema people ended 15 years of relative peace in the area.
Congo is also dealing with its worst cholera outbreak in decades, which killed more than 1,000 people last year.
As of last month, cases in the capital Kinshasa were declining but the situation remained "alarming", according to the World Health Organization.
- Reporting by Nellie Peyton, Editing by Kieran Guilbert and Katy Migiro