Dozens of cases of cholera confirmed in Algeria

Dozens of cases of cholera have been reported in Algiers since mid-August. Health authorities, who spoke initially of gastroenteritis, are accused of trying to hide the information from the public.

Forty-one cases have been confirmed in Algiers and its surrounding areas, announced the health minister in a press conference on August 23. One of the patients has died and dozens of others remain in the hospital awaiting test results. The contamination is linked to food and improper hygiene, said the minister, who has ruled out transmission by tap water.

The announcement gives official confirmation to what the medical community has known for several days. “According to the doctors, the test results confirmed at least two cases of cholera in the last four days,” said Leila Beratto, correspondent for FRANCE 24’s sister station RFI in Algeria.

The authorities’ delay in revealing the cause of the hospitalisation of dozens of people since the beginning of the week has provoked a public outcry. The health minister, who at first spoke of 88 cases of food poisoning, is accused of negligence. “In a press conference on August 20, authorities confirmed that these were cases of gastroenteritis,” said Beratto. “Late last week, when five more people were hospitalised, people were talking about water contamination. On August 23, when a man died, the official story was still food poisoning even though a special ward had been created to isolate the patients.”

The government said on Friday that the cases were “isolated and limited to a few families” and that the situation is under control. Several doctors confirmed that suspected cases of cholera were flagged a week ago. A doctor of infectious diseases tweeted, “The infectious diseases department at Boufarik [30km southwest of Algiers] received confirmation of cholera cases six days ago. […] The alert was given but the ministry didn’t move. It’s very serious.” The same health professional described how “doctors who suspected two cases at Ain Bessem [in southeast Algiers] treated the patients as if they had cholera, and took the samples and sent them to the Pasteur Institute in Algeria. But it’s not up to the doctors to make the declaration, it’s up to the [health] ministry.”

The controversy has grown to encompass the state of public health and development in the country, as the ministry has tried to downplay the scale of the problem. The director of the Pasteur Institute in Algeria declared that, “Cholera outbreaks have occurred in Chad, in Niger, in Yemen… not just in Algeria,” and congratulated himself for being able to provide exact numbers of people infected. Many Algerians reacted on Twitter: “This is what we compare Algeria to! It’s scandalous!” said one. “How reassuring,” mocked another.

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Source: France24

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