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Thursday, 14 March, 2002, 17:42 GMT
Cholera outbreak hits DR Congo
Child in a Congolese hospital
The Congolese are suffering from war and disease
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Ishbel Matheson
East Africa correspondent
Up to 400 people have died from cholera in the Southern Katanga region of the Democratic Republic of Congo, according to the charity Medecins sans Frontieres (Belgium).

But efforts to bring the epidemic under control have been hampered by corruption among medical staff.

It's the worst cholera outbreak in Katanga for over a decade.

Since January 5,300 people have fallen sick. It's now the rainy season in southern Congo, and cases of this water-borne disease are expected to rise.

Neglected patients

The outbreak has been aggravated by the behaviour of health officials, aid workers say.

Doctors have been demanding bribes before treating cholera patients. Life-saving medicines have been stolen.

On a visit to one hospital in the area, the Congolese health minister was reported to be so angry that he had the hospital director and two other staff members sent to jail.

But after three years of conflict on top of decades of neglect, the Congolese have few defences against a killer disease like cholera.

It's not just the health service that's collapsed; Many roads are also impassable.

Doctors say they simply don't know how many people are dying of the epidemic in remote villages.

The disease can be prevented by boiling or chlorinating water, but amid the ruins of southern Congo, cholera has found an easy breeding ground.

See also:

06 Mar 02 | Africa
Stalled DR Congo talks resume
21 Jan 02 | Africa
Aid agencies battle Congo crisis
20 Dec 01 | Africa
Death rate soars in DR Congo
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