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Two die as cholera outbreak spreads in Ugandan capital

Health officials battle to stop disease spreading in Kampala slums with lack of toilets and poor sanitation made worse by heavy rains.

Filling water cans in a slum in Kampala, where lack of toilets and clean water is exacerbating the spread of cholera in some areas.
Filling water cans in a slum in Kampala, where lack of toilets and clean water is exacerbating the spread of cholera in some areas. Photograph: Ute Grabowsky/Photothek via Getty Images

Two people have died in a new cholera outbreak in the overcrowded slums of Uganda’s capital, Kampala.

The ministry of health confirmed at the weekend that there were 43 suspected cases of cholera in the city and that two people had died. It said an emergency isolation unit had been set up.

“More efforts are needed to ensure that the cholera outbreak is contained. We should work more to ensure we don’t have many cases,” said Joyce Moriku Kaducu, Uganda’s state minister for primary health care. The current heavy rains are expected to exacerbate the spread of the disease.

“[Cholera] kills a person within hours,” she said. “The public is urged to be vigilant and report any suspected cases to the nearest health facility.”

The city suburbs affected by the outbreak are all densely populated, with poor hygiene practices, improper disposal of domestic and human waste, and high consumption of untreated water.

Most slum dwellers have no toilets in their houses and the common practice is to defecate in polythene bags and dump the contents in open trenches and pools of floodwater.

“The recent outbreak of cholera, mostly [affecting] some city suburbs, is mainly due to improper waste disposal and water contaminated with faecal content as the leading cause of spreading bacteria,” said CharlotteKusemererwa, a project officer who works in Kampala with the Joy For Children organisation.

“The common denominator of all slums around Kampala is the open drainage channels littered with domestic, industrial and human wastes. When the rains sweep in, running water carries all kind of waste and dumps it in open drains, causing a massive blockage and hence flooding.”

Asia Russell, executive director at Health GAP, an international organisation working to improve access to medicines, said: “Refusal of government to invest in free, essential services like toilets, safe water and collection of garbage, particularly in the most densely populated communities, is to blame.

“People in slums deserve to live with dignity and free from cholera,” she said. “Instead, they are being neglected and put in harm’s way. Where will they find money for treatment?”

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