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Monday, 26 November, 2001, 17:41 GMT
Nigeria cholera outbreak kills 400
Nigerian market place
Government warnings too late, say aid workers
By Dan Isaacs in Nigeria

An outbreak of cholera in northern Nigeria has now led to the loss of up to 400 lives, according to hospital records in the city of Kano.

Poor Nigerian child
Aid agencies say cholera is spreading from an urban water source
International medical organisations are supporting the state government in its efforts to control the epidemic, but hospitals are overwhelmed.

With fresh cases arriving daily, the severity of the outbreak may well be the result of a slow initial response to the crisis.

Although it is not possible to confirm that all 400 deaths are directly cholera related, the hospital records reveal a desperate situation.

Those that have managed to reach medical facilities in Kano are being housed in tents in the hospital grounds.

Warning signs

Both the World Health Organisation and the United Nations children's fund, Unicef, have provided the state government with medical supplies.

Contaminated water sources are also being treated.

But serious questions are now being asked why it took so long to recognise the severity of the outbreak.

The warning signs were clear.

Hospital records show the first isolated cases surfacing at least two months ago.

And then two weeks ago, the number of cases began to rise dramatically, consistent with a contaminated water source in a large urban area such as Kano city.

But despite mounting concerns of nursing staff at the infectious diseases hospital, the Kano state authorities continued to issue statements saying that only a handful of people had died.

Crisis proportions

The numbers were simply contradicted by the hospital records which showed deaths in the hundreds.

And until last week, the only serious effort at a state-wide information campaign, was a series of radio announcements with warnings to avoid drinking dirty water.

Now the state authorities are being forced to face up to what has become an epidemic of crisis proportions.

Early indications according to one medical team on the ground, are that although new cases are still arriving in Kano hospitals, they may have reached their peak.

See also:

15 Jun 01 | Africa
Nigerian doctors suspend strike
13 Mar 01 | Africa
Diseases hit northwest Nigeria
14 Mar 01 | Africa
Nigeria's drug trial fears
07 Feb 00 | Business
Drugs giants merge
23 Mar 01 | Business
Health brings wealth
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