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Poor water, sanitation plagues the Western Province capital

By Maureen Gerawa PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (PNG Post-Courier, Nov. 10, 2010) – Poor water and sanitation issues facing Daru as well as the town’s high population is expected to propagate the cholera outbreak in the town.

Post-Courier was unable to get in touch with the Daru General Hospital for latest information, but officials from the National Health Department have confirmed receiving information that 13 people had died from cholera-related symptoms in the past three to four days.

[PIR editor’s note: Radio Australia reports that a total of 16 people has so far died of Cholera in Daru, while 320 have been treated for the intestinal illness. ]

Daru, the capital town of Western Province, is now Papua New Guinea’s eighth area hit by cholera since the disease was first reported in Wau in Morobe Province more than a year ago.

The disease is a serious infectious disease caused by the bacteria Vibrio cholera intestinal system of the body. Symptoms experienced include vomiting and dehydration. Without immediate medical treatment, cholera can kill a person with four to twelve hours after the symptoms begin.

National Health Department’s executive manager for public health Enoch Posanai said yesterday that the department had received information as of Monday evening at 7pm that 13 people had died of suspected cholera.

He said more than 200 cases had been treated at the outpatient in the past three to four days. There were also 65 people admitted to the hospital mainly for dehydration.

"Our surveillance team has been in contact with the Daru Hospital.

"We are also making arrangements to send medical supplies like oral rehydration salt (ORS) solutions and IV fluids and other urgent drugs. Arrangements are being made to see if we can send them urgently through a normal flight, but if we can’t then we will looking at chartering a flight," he said.

Mr. Posanai also said due to communication difficulties, some details were not available such as whether the affected were mostly from the town itself or from the villages; and whether Daru Hospital had sufficient staff to manage the place and set up to treat the cholera patients. However, he said, since the first outbreak of cholera occurred in Morobe Province, health officers from all the provinces were brought to Port Moresby for a workshop in which they were given first hand information on cholera, what to do if there were cases and so on. In addition, each province was given PGK50,000 [us$14,000] to assist them prepare set ups.

"We will continue to monitor the situation in Daru. Daru has already set up a place for treating the patients (for cholera). Daru hospital staff are manning the place, but if there is a need for staff, we will send our team to help.’’

Meanwhile, Mr. Posanai said every time cholera hits a new area, many people die but this should not happen if people take the advice given by the health workers and others that conduct campaigns on cholera. He said the advice on washing hands before handling food, after using toilet and drinking boiled water still remained the most effective way to prevent one from contracting diseases such as cholera. Daru, he said, had its water being piped from the main land but it was not clear at this stage whether this was sufficient for the town’s big population.

He said poor water and sanitation related issues were main contributing factors for the spread of diseases such as cholera.

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