Ethiopia: Strange disease causing several deaths in Addis not unexpected

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The outbreak of a disease termed as Acute Watery Diarrhea (AWD) has hit the Ethiopian capital city of Addis Ababa. Over 200 persons have so far been affected by the outbreak and are receiving treatments in the city’s poor hospitals. First observed in remote rural areas of the country in July this year, the disease has now spread to six regional states of the country according to the country’s Ministry of Health report released last week.

“Only two weeks ago, the number of infected persons was very low,” according to medical director of Ras Desta Damtew, one of the city’s hospitals. However, the number of patients has risen considerably this week. “Hospitals are currently recording an average of 20 patients per day in search of medical treatments,” the director said.

The city’s poor hospitals have now resorted to changing health workers’ dressing rooms and began setting up tents as temporary treatment centers. The growing number of infected persons indicates a looming epidemic if emergency steps are not taken to curb the outbreak.

Close to some 1,000 persons have so far been infected, which has resulted in 15 deaths. The Ministry also claims that no deaths have been reported from the city’s hospitals. The Ministry’s figures have been questioned following a report filed by a local paper, which quotes a health officer from Yekatit 12, one of the city’s hospitals, about the death of one person. This suggests that the Ministry’s inability to keep track of statistics could also mean that more people could be infected.

According to the Ministry, the disease is as a result of contaminated drinking water.

Early warning

A five-point strategic plan approved about six months ago by the Addis Ababa Administration revealed a possible outbreak of such water related diseases. Contaminated water, according to assessments of the strategic plan, could be one of the likely causes of such an outbreak.

According to the assessment, 25 per cent of Addis Ababa’s solid waste is not properly discharged while 25 per cent of the overall residential houses lack adequate lavatories. Out of the 800,000 cubic meters of the city’s daily waste only 10 per cent (that is, 8,024 cubic meters) was properly discharged last year, the document indicated.

The most alarming part of the findings revealed that the city’s poor sewerage system is bedded close to one of the main fresh water systems that supplies 37 percent of Addis Ababa’s water needs. There have been cases where residents were reportedly exposed to polluted water supply.

The assessment also included the city’s health institutions’ shortcomings. Counting between 2.5 and 3 million inhabitants, the city counts only 10 hospitals, out of which 6 belong to the federal government. According to a World Health Organization requirement, a medical doctor is expected to treat a 10,000 patients while one nurse is to serve up to 1,000, however, a medical doctor in Addis Ababa treats 29,470 patients against 4,356 for a nurse, according to the document.

Health file  The lack of education and political will, poverty, out-moded traditional beliefs, to mention but a few, have been widely blamed for causing severe and sometimes unwarranted health catastrophies of genocidal proportions on the African continent. Child killer diseases, malaria, tuberculosis, water borne diseases, HIV/AIDS, among other preventable ailments have killed millions in their wake. As rightly said by the former UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, on May 13, 2000 "More people (...) died of Aids in the past year (1999-2000, ndlr) in Africa than in all the wars on the continent".
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