07.09.2009

Papua New Guinea's Angau Hospital in Morobe Province is on high alert and treating people affected by an already deadly outbreak of cholera. MSF is assisting the Ministry of Health in setting up a cholera treatment centre.

Papua New Guinea's Angau Hospital in Morobe Province is on high alert and treating people affected by an already deadly outbreak of cholera.

As of 3rd September, 95 cases of cholera were confirmed - including nine deaths - in Wasu, Morobe Province. This is a relatively worrying number as the small community of Wasu has a population of about 12,000. Cholera has also spread to Lae City. Eleven suspected cases have been admitted to Angau Hospital and three patients have died. MSF is responding by assisting the Ministry of Health in setting up a cholera treatment centre in the hospital. An isolation ward has been established which includes disinfection points and footbaths. MSF’s emergency team has sent seven additional staff, including three nurses and a water and sanitation specialist, to assist in the urgent response. This is one of the first known cholera outbreaks in Papua New Guinea in the last 50 years.

Cholera is a highly contagious disease. The bacteria vibrio cholerae is excreted by an infected person in stool and vomit. It can spread directly to other people if they touch the patient and fail to wash their hands. The bacteria can also contaminate food or water supplies. In the latter case this can cause a massive outbreak because many people will ingest the bacteria in a short period of time.

A patient may require up to 10-15 litres of intravenous fluid on the first day. A person who is not treated will die of dehydration well before this. In fact, death usually occurs when 10 to 15 per cent of the total body weight is lost. In severe cases this may take only a couple of hours.
In addition to the cholera outbreak in Wasu and Lae, outbreaks of influenza A and shigella have been identified in Menyama, also in Morobe. MSF is currently assessing the situation.

Local people outside the Tari District Hospital, Southern Highlands where MSF runs a surgery programme. Papua New Guinea, Feb 2009.

Local people outside the Tari District Hospital, Southern Highlands where MSF runs a surgery programme. Papua New Guinea, Feb 2009. Photo by Helen Pantenburg/MSF

MSF has worked in Papua New Guinea since 2007. MSF supports a clinic in the eastern city of Lae, the country's second largest metropolitan area. In September 2008, MSF started providing surgical care for victims of violence in the local hospital in Tari, a town in the western part of the island.

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