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WHO announces outbreak of cholera in 23 countries

The World Health Organisation (WHO) on Friday, February 10, 2023, announced the outbreak of cholera in 23 countries, warning that 20 more countries sharing land borders with the affected countries are at risk.

Tedros Ghebreyesus
Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General, World Health Organisation (WHO)

Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, stated this during the bloc’s online media conference.

Ghebreyesus further said that a total of more than one billion people globally, were at the risk of cholera.

“Cholera spreads through contaminated water, so clean water is needed urgently wherever there is an acute outbreak, to prevent transmission,” he said.

According to him, WHO also strongly recommends countries at risk of cholera outbreaks to scale up surveillance so cases can be identified and managed as quickly as possible.

The WHO boss noted that though there were effective vaccines for cholera, supply however, was very limited.

According to Ghebreyesus, the International Coordinating Group that manages the global cholera vaccine stockpile in 2022 suspended the standard two-dose regimen, recommending instead a single-dose approach to extend supply.

He, however, said in the medium-to long-term, it remained important that global vaccine production was increased.

“In the meantime, we must rely on other measures to stop outbreaks and save lives,” he said.

According to him, over the past few weeks there have been many reports of mammals, including minks, otters, foxes and sea lions, being infected with H5N1 avian influenza.

He noted that the H5N1 had spread widely in wild birds and poultry for 25 years, but the recent spillover to mammals needed to be monitored closely.

Ghebreyesus, however, disclosed that at the moment, WHO had assessed the risk to humans as low.

He said that since H5N1 first emerged in 1996, they had only seen rare and non-sustained transmission of H5N1 to and between humans.

“But we cannot assume that will remain the case, and we must prepare for any change in the status quo.

“As always, people are advised not to touch or collect dead or sick wild animals, but to report to local authorities.

“WHO is working with national authorities and partners to monitor the situation closely, and to study cases of H5N1 infection in humans when they occur,” he said.

WHO’s global laboratory network, the Global Influenza Surveillance and Response System, identifies and monitors strains of circulating influenza viruses, and provides advice to countries on their risk to human health and available treatment or control measures.

WHO recommends countries strengthen surveillance in settings where humans and farmed or wild animals interact.

“WHO is also continuing to engage with manufacturers to make sure that if needed, supplies of vaccines and antivirals would be available for global use.

On the issue of breastfeeding, the WHO helmsman disclosed that a new research had found that less than half of babies born globally, were being breastfed exclusively for the first six months of life.

Ghebreyesus noted that this was because women lacked support they needed to breastfeed, with more than half a billion working class women globally, lacking adequate maternity protections.

“Meanwhile, misleading formula milk marketing claims, undermine breastfeeding at every turn.

“Almost every country has signed the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes, which restricts marketing of formula milk.

“However, regulations are largely unenforced,” he said.

“Ghebreyesus called on governments and policy makers, to promote breastfeeding by ensuring all women had adequate maternity protections.

He recommended at least six months maternity leave with full pay for nursing mothers, as well as time-off for breastfeeding when they resumed work.

He also reiterated WHO’s call for governments to end exploitative marketing of artificial milk, and increase health sector support for breastfeeding.

By Franca Ofili

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