By Bukar Bolori
More than 1,600 people have been treated for cholera in the past three weeks by teams from international medical organisation Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) in Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state, northeast Nigeria. Patient numbers at MSF’s cholera treatment centre increased from 50 per week in early September to more than 500 per week by the end of the month.
An MSF team set up the cholera treatment centre in Bolori II, a neighbourhood of Maiduguri, in late August as part of annual preparations for receiving cholera patients. Following a significant influx of the patients from mid-September, MSF expanded the centre’s capacity from 90 to 120 beds and opened an oral rehydration point near the epicentre of the outbreak.
“We expect other organisations also to scale up their activities by opening cholera treatment centres and oral hydration points to respond to the upsurge in cholera patients,” says MSF project coordinator Daniela Batista.
The Ministry of Health in Borno state declared the cholera outbreak on 14 September after cases were confirmed in seven local government areas. An estimated one million people are at risk in the affected areas.
Following the declaration, the authorities sought support from aid organisations, including MSF, to treat and contain the disease.
MSF staff have admitted a total of 1,644 people with cholera to the treatment centre since 27 August. As cholera is highly transmissible, MSF teams are encouraging the local community to take protective measures to prevent the disease from spreading further.
“Cholera is characterised by a sudden onset of acute watery diarrhoea that can rapidly lead to dehydration and death if left untreated,” says MSF medical coordinator Dr Htet Aung Kyi. “People must adopt protective behaviour, including better sanitation, hygiene and clean drinking water. Patients must also be brought to treatment facilities at the earliest stage of the sickness.”
Children with cholera can easily become malnourished – a particular danger in a region where malnutrition is already a major issue.
“We are deeply concerned about the possible negative impact of the cholera outbreak on the nutritional status of children under five,” says Dr Kyi.
“Periodic outbreaks of disease, particularly cholera, measles and seasonal peaks of malaria, can further compound the malnutrition situation. At the same time, immunisation rates among children in Borno are low.”
MSF’s nutrition centre in Maiduguri has seen unprecedented numbers of patients since May 2022. Some 4,400 malnourished children were admitted for inpatient care in the first eight months of this year, a 160 per cent increase on the same period time last year.
More than 4,000 children were enrolled for outpatient care from January to August 2022, a 94 per cent increase on the same period in 2021.
Cholera is an imminent threat to many thousands of people across Borno state. Combined with the worrying increase in the childhood malnutrition, there is a clear need for a more robust response to the current health crisis in Borno.
Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) is an international, independent, medical humanitarian organisation that delivers emergency aid to people affected by armed conflict, epidemics, natural disasters and exclusion from healthcare.
MSF has been constantly working in Nigeria since 1996, and currently provides medical care, free of charge, in 11 states across the country.