Cholera: WHO announces over 1,900 deaths, 195,000 cases globally

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The World Health Organization (WHO) has confirmed a total of 194,897 deaths and 1,932 cases globally due to a cholera outbreak.

According to a statement from the health organization’s Eastern Mediterranean Region, these outbreaks occurred between January 1, 2024, and May 26, 2024.

The cases were reported in 24 countries across five WHO regions, with the highest numbers recorded in the Eastern Mediterranean Region, followed by the African Region, the Region of the Americas, the South-East Asia Region, and the European Region.

No outbreaks were reported in the Western Pacific Region during this period.

“The global stockpile of Oral Cholera Vaccines (OCV) was depleted until early March but exceeded the emergency target of 5 million doses in early June for the first time in 2024. As of 10 June 2024, the stockpile has 6.2 million doses. However, demand for the vaccine continues to outpace supply. Since January 2023, 92 million OCV doses were requested by 16 countries, nearly double the 49 million doses produced during this period,” it said.

By March, the UN health agency announced it had exhausted its global stockpile of Oral Cholera Vaccines (OCV). However, it managed to surpass the emergency target of five million doses by early June for the first time in 2024.

WHO reported that 16 countries requested 92 million doses of OCV since January of the previous year, nearly double the 49 million doses produced during that period.

The organization stated that it was collaborating with partners such as the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) to utilize resources and find long-term solutions for cholera.

WHO classified the global resurgence of cholera as a grade three emergency in January 2023, the highest internal level for emergencies within the organization. Given the number of outbreaks, their geographic spread, and the shortage of vaccines and other resources, WHO continues to assess the global risk as very high, maintaining the event as a grade three emergency.

“After decades of progress against cholera, cases are again on the rise, even in countries that have not seen the disease in years,” the agency said.

Cholera is an acute intestinal infection that spreads through food and water contaminated with the bacterium Vibrio cholerae, often from faeces. With safe water and sanitation, cholera can be prevented. Although it can kill within hours when not treated, however, immediate access to treatment saves lives.

While the triggers for cholera outbreaks—like poverty and conflict—are enduring, climate change and conflict are now compounding the problem. Extreme climate events like floods, cyclones and droughts, reduce access to clean water and create an ideal environment for cholera to thrive, WHO said.

In 2022, 44 countries reported cholera cases, a 25 per cent increase from the 35 countries that reported cases in 2021. The trend continued into 2023.

“The recent outbreaks have also been more deadly, with case fatality rates being the highest recorded in over a decade.

“This increase in outbreaks and cases is stretching the global capacity to respond. There is a shortage of cholera tools, including vaccines,’ the statement added.

WHO stated that it considers the current global cholera risk to be very high and is responding urgently to reduce deaths and contain outbreaks worldwide.

In Nigeria, Kemi Ogunyemi, the Special Adviser to the Lagos State Governor on Health, reported that the number of recorded fatalities has risen to 21, following a previous update of 350 suspected cases and 15 deaths.

Similarly, the Ogun State Government confirmed an outbreak that has claimed the life of a 62-year-old woman, with five other individuals hospitalized.