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Cablegate: Cholera Outbreak in South Africa

R 050731Z DEC 08
FM AMEMBASSY PRETORIA
TO SECSTATE WASHDC 6640
INFO AMCONSUL CAPE TOWN
AMCONSUL JOHANNESBURG
AMCONSUL DURBAN
DEPT OF HHS WASHDC
CDC ATLANTA GA 2417
SOUTHERN AF DEVELOPMENT COMMUNITY COLLECTIVE

UNCLAS PRETORIA 002643
BT
USAID FOR BUREAU OF GLOBAL HEALTH AND AFR/SA
HHS/PHS FOR OFFICE OF GLOBAL HEALTH AFFAIRS WSTEIGER
CDC FOR GLOBAL HEALTH OFFICE SBLOUNT
NIH FOR JHERRINGTON

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: TBIO AMGT AMED KSTH KSCA SENV SF ZI
SUBJECT: CHOLERA OUTBREAK IN SOUTH AFRICA

1. Summary: An outbreak of cholera has been reported in South
Africa. This is a result of cholera cases crossing the Zimbabwean
border into the South African town of Musina in the Limpopo province
and slowly spreading throughout the country. South African
Government spokesperson Themba Maseko said the Government will
assist Limpopo health authorities in dealing with the outbreak as
the number of cases identified is increasing and they can no longer
cope. End Summary.

2. Harare 1054, sent November 26, provides a detailed description
of the cholera outbreak in Zimbabwe as well as the Government of
Zimbabwe's (GOZ) response and the response of donors.

--------------------------------
Cholera Outbreak in South Africa
--------------------------------
4. The South African town of Musina in the Limpopo Province is near
the main border crossing between the two countries. Many
Zimbabweans have crossed the border into Musina and deaths due to
the cholera outbreak have been reported. The December 3rd National
Outbreak Committee Situational Report on the cholera outbreak in
South Africa has reported 486 cumulative cholera cases. The
majority of these cases were Zimbabweans coming into South Africa to
seek medical attention and a few were South Africans who travel on a
regular basis between South Africa and Zimbabwe. Ten deaths were
recorded and more cases of cholera are still being identified.

5. The cholera outbreak is spreading quickly in South Africa.
Limpopo province has reported 455 cholera cases, Gauteng reported 26
cases, KwaZulu-Natal reported two cases, Mpumalanga, Eastern Cape
and the North West province have each reported one case. Limpopo
Department of Health spokesperson, Phuti Selobi, is reassuring the
South African public not to panic because the two countries do not
share a common water source.

-----------------------------------
South African Government Response
------------------------------------

6. South African Government spokesperson Themba Maseko said the
Government will assist Limpopo health authorities to deal with the
outbreak as the number of cases identified is increasing and they
can no longer cope. The South African Government has responded to
the situation with extra medical personnel and facilities being
setup along the border to help curb the crisis. Three re-hydration
centers have been set up so that people do not have to travel long
distances to get treatment. The Department of Health has negotiated
to have one of the centers set up in the "no man's land" between the
two countries. Aid groups such as World Vision and Doctors Without
Borders fear that the outbreak will worsen in Zimbabwe as the rainy
season progresses.

7. The National and Provincial Departments of Health mobilized staff
and supplies to deal with the outbreak. Additional health
professionals such as doctors, nurses, epidemiologists, and public
health specialists were deployed to provide assistance in Musina.
Minister Hogan added: "The National Multi-sector Committee shared
information on the current status in South Africa and in Zimbabwe.
There was consensus that much is being done in both countries by
various stakeholders to address the outbreak and its consequences."
8. Other measures that the South African Government have taken to
Q8. Other measures that the South African Government have taken to
help curb the cholera crisis include talking to the Southern African
Development Community (SADC) and the World Health Organization (WHO)
about measures to deal with the outbreak. South Africa has also set
up a task team to deal with the outbreak in Limpopo. The team is
led by the Department of Health and will include the Departments of
Foreign Affairs, Water Affairs and Forestry, as well as Provincial
and Local Government. Other Departments will join the team on an as
needed basis.

9. Minister of Health Barbara Hogan briefed the media on Wednesday,
November 26, 2008 and said: "While South Africa was under pressure
to respond to its own health problems, the country was obliged to
assist its neighbor. I do not think the scale of the problem is
large enough to stretch our resources. We will provide any
assistance required by the World Health Organization. There is a
humanitarian crisis in Zimbabwe. Under no circumstance will we want
to stop people who are sick and in need of treatment from entering
the country."

-------
Comment
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10. The South African public health system is already overburdened
in providing health services to its population and a cholera
outbreak to South Africa will worsen the situation. There are 5.7
million South Africans living with HIV. TB is the most common
opportunistic disease affecting people with HIV in South Africa. An
estimated 353,000 people were diagnosed with TB in 2007, of which 70
percent were also infected with HIV. Infant mortality also is high
at 53 deaths per 1,000. The new Minister of Health Barbara Hogan is
quickly engaging South Africa's many health challenges, but the
cholera threat is adding onto an already Herculean list of problems.

Bost

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