Cholera in Algeria

Summary: outbreak of cholera in Algeria. Cause may be corrupt evasion of regulations against irrigation of crops with human waste.

According to WHO an outbreak of cholera was announced by the Algerian Ministry of Health on 23 August. By 26 August, 161 suspected cases with two deaths had been reported. Laboratory tests confirmed 59 of the cases in five provinces. A much more serious outbreak across the Sahara in Niger which began in July had caused 37 deaths.

We are once more grateful to an Arab Digest member for the article below.

A dangerous wave of cholera is consuming Algeria

If I could use a book to inspire me about the ongoing cholera outbreak in Algeria, I would choose the 1985 novel “Love in the Time of Cholera” by the Colombian Nobel Prize-winning author Gabriel García Márquez. I would write a follow-up entitled “Corruption in the Time of Cholera” — with two especially notable differences. First, the setting: while the original novel takes is set between 1880 and 1930 in an unspecified Latin American country, the new story would be set in contemporary Algeria. Second, it would not be a work of fiction.

Cholera is an infection of the small intestine by strains of the bacterium Vibrio cholerae. Symptoms may range from none, to mild, to severe. Although it is classified as a pandemic as of 2010, cholera is mainly a risk in developing countries.

Cholera had not appeared in Algeria for 22 years, since 1996; but today it is back with two fatalities. About 50 people have been infected and are being treated in Boufarik, 30 km (18 miles) east of the capital, health authorities told Algerian media – while the authorities tried to bury the truth. Notably, on 20 August officials of the Pasteur Institute and the Ministry of Health held a press conference to reassure the population, saying that these were cases of gastroenteritis: Algeria Says Cholera Outbreak ‘Completely Under Control, and the government rejected trade union calls to delay the start of the new school year because of a cholera outbreak.

Today even if the risk of infection is very low for European Union/European Economic Area (EU/EEA) travellers to and residents in Algeria who follow correct preventive hygiene measures according to European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, the French authorities evacuated a plane carrying 141 passengers and crew after it arrived in the French city of Perpignan from Algeria on Wednesday with a child on board suspected of being infected with cholera. Even if doctor confirmed that the eight years old boy was not infected, this situation shows clearly the fear but also the lack of trust of the information coming from the Algerian local government.

Forced to admit to cholera cases a few days later, even now the Ministry of Health is trying significantly to play down the extent of the outbreak. According to the national news, cases are confined to the north-centre of the country, cities like Blida, Tipaza, Algiers and Ain Bessam, where 41 cases of cholera have been confirmed in 88 suspected cases, according to Dr. Djamel Fourar, Director General of Prevention at the ministry, adding that 62 people remained under close surveillance in hospital.

According to the National Water Agency, water could not be the cause of the contamination, otherwise the pandemic would have spread wider. Nevertheless, the cost of mineral water has soared.

Meanwhile, the authorities are pointing the finger of blame at fruits and vegetables not properly cleaned, i.e. accusing the ordinary people of failing to abide by simple hygiene norms. In sticking to this line, they are ignoring several videos posted on social media clearly showing that entire plantations are irrigated with sewage water. As Vibrio cholera is usually found in food or water contaminated by faeces, it is far from clear that the authorities can legitimately ignore the possibility that the source of the outbreak is vegetables irrigated with water containing human waste.

The suspect plantations are supposed to be subjected to sanitary controls from government agencies. But, where sanitary control agents are effectively bought off with gifts of fruit and vegetables by unscrupulous farmers, the regulations are all too seldom taken seriously and ‘irregularities’ proliferate. However, if the authorities were to address this reality it would risk shifting the focus from a cholera outbreak to the ongoing corruption ‘epidemic’ which is afflicting Algeria and spreading into every level of the government and its agencies where, as things stand, impunity rules.

But this is a bigger story for another day, for now the more urgent question being whether the authorities can get the cholera epidemic genuinely under control.

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