‘The worst we’ve seen in 20 years’. Why Cholera has made a terrifying come back across the globe.

Archbishop Jerome Lloyd OSJVPosted by

The WHO says more than 40 countries are at risk. Struggling economies with broken sanitation systems pose the greatest risk.

Health workers during a vaccination campaign at Maram camp for internally displaced people, Idlib countryside, Syria
Health workers visit the Maram camp for internally displaced people in Idlib, as part of a vaccination campaign CREDIT: YAHYA NEMAH/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

“It’s crisis on top of crisis,” says Dr Mohammad Al Jasem of the cholera outbreak currently raging in Syria.

The country has seen 80,000 suspected cases of the diarrhoeal disease since it first emerged in September 2022, with last month’s devastating earthquake compounding an already dire situation.

The disease is spread through contaminated food and water and the risk of an outbreak is high when people live in overcrowded conditions and have little or no access to clean water.  The disease is easily treatable but patients must be seen quickly and require focused care. Without it they quickly lose strength, dehydrate and die.

Syria is the ideal breeding ground for the disease. Years of conflict has seen vital public infrastructure such as water, sanitation and hygiene (Wash) services destroyed. Millions are crowded into official and unofficial camps – and even those living in more settled conditions have limited access to public services. The region is also experiencing a drought, forcing people to resort to drinking untreated water.

“The poor state of the health and the Wash systems enhanced the chances of an infectious disease outbreak,” says Dr Jasem, who is the medical coordinator for the NGO International Rescue Committee in the north west of the country. “In the last few years we have only been able to respond to emergencies – we haven’t been able to build any kind of infrastructure so when an outbreak like this happens it’s very difficult to manage,” he says.


‘The worst we’ve seen in 20 years’. Why Cholera has made a terrifying come back across the globe.

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