Following the outbreak of cholera in some part of the North-East, the United Nations Children’s Education Fund (UNICEF) has raised the alarm that about 1.4 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the region are at risk of getting infected with the disease.
Out of the 1.4 million displaced Nigerians living in cholera hotspots, about 350,000 are children under the age of five.
Already, no fewer than 28 people have died as a result of the disease, and 837 infected, including about 145 children under age five in various IDP camps in Maiduguri, the Borno State capital.
According to a statement signed by UNICEF’s Chief of Communication, Doune Porter and made available to newsmen yesterday in Abuja, heavy rainfall and the acute malnutrition faced by children in the North-East, would only heighten the rate of exposure to contacting the disease.
“There is growing concern for the health and wellbeing of 1.4 million displaced people, including 350,000 children under the age of five, living in cholera ‘hotspots’ in North-East Nigeria.
“The outbreak occurs as ongoing violence and military efforts against insurgents in the region have displaced more than 1.7 million people and left over 3.6 million without adequate access to basic water services.
“An estimated 28 people have died from cholera, while 837 are suspected to have been infected with the disease, including at least 145 children under the age of five. The outbreak was first identified in the Muna Garage camp for the displaced in Maiduguri.
“The outbreak has spread to six other locations in the state. UNICEF and partners have rapidly scaled up their response to the cholera outbreak, as heavy rains multiply the risk of disease and malnutrition for conflict affected children,” Porter said.
UNICEF Deputy Representative in Nigeria, Pernille Ironside, explained that cholera was difficult for young children to withstand at any time, but becomes a crisis for survival when their resilience was already weakened by malnutrition, malaria and other waterborne diseases.
“Cholera is one more threat amongst many that children in North-East Nigeria are battling today in order to survive,” Ironside said.
UNICEF noted that before the rains began, it had mobilised religious leaders, community heads and local volunteers to encourage good hygiene practices and help refer suspected cases to health facilities.
“Since the outbreak was confirmed there had been a closely coordinated water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) and health rapid response, driven by the Borno State Government with support from WHO, UNICEF and international non-governmental organisations, including the setup of a cholera treatment centre at the Muna Garage Camp.
“As the impact of the rains is felt, UNICEF has also scaled up its nutrition and child health programmes across the three North-East Nigerian states most affected by conflict,” the statement stated.
However, UNICEF has expressed dissatisfaction over the inability of the Federal Government to complement international efforts by ensuring total commitment towards the nation’s health system, especially funding of WASH sector.
According to the agency, “So far this year, UNICEF has treated over 110,000 children suffering from severe acute malnutrition, distributed nearly 120,000 mosquito nets and provided emergency primary health care services to over three million people in these states. The response continues despite increased security concerns, reduced access because of floods and a heavily damaged health system.
“Even in the face of a deadly cholera outbreak, the WASH sector remains critically underfunded. To date, UNICEF has only received 49% of funding needed to provide two million people with access to clean water, one of the main interventions that can protect children from deadly waterborne diseases and offer some protection against the threat of malnutrition.”