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Outbreak first reported in neighboring Morobe Province

By Bola Noho PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (PNG Post-Courier, Dec. 8, 2009) – In Papua New Guinea, the cholera outbreak in East Sepik Province is spreading slowly but on a notable phase across the province with the latest reported cases totaling almost 300.

The first cholera case reported in the East Sepik was on November 9. An international non government organization, Oxfam International working in the area yesterday reported that at least 281 cases had been confirmed by the provincial authorities’ surveillance unit. This includes eight cholera related deaths, including two in the past week. When the disease started early last month, the World Health Organization (WHO) sampled the outbreak and confirmed the cholera infection.

The Oxfam Sepik program manager Andrew Rankin said the number of cases was increasing.

[PIR editor’s note: The cholera epidemic in Papua New Guinea was first reported in the Wasu area of Finschhafen District in neighboring Morobe Province. The disease has since spread. ]

He said Oxfam staff from Papua New Guinea and Australia had been deployed with relief supplies to the affected areas and had carried out cholera awareness and started distribution of temporary water catchments soap and essential hygiene kits this week.

"Ongoing national support and interest in responding to the outbreak is required, as the number of cases approaches 300 and continues to rise," Mr. Rankin said.

Mr. Rankin said Oxfam had been active in responding to the outbreak with support from other non-government organizations and the East Sepik Provincial Department of Health.

"The NGOs like Oxfam and Medecins Sans Frontiers (MSF) are working closely with the provincial authorities as the infection continues to spread.

"But the response is slow as resources are limited and the affected areas difficult and costly to access," he said. "There are new cases being reported almost every day, and if cholera continues to spread it will be difficult to contain it," Mr. Rankin said.

There has been a task force made up of provincial health authorities and international non government organizations and civil societies set up to respond to the cholera outbreak.

The task force will be meeting again today for an update on the outbreak.

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