UNICEF faced with the severest cholera epidemic in Tanganyika since 2009

“Every day I come here to fetch water”

“My grandmother died of cholera 5 years ago; all the same I continue drinking water from the river. I don’t have a choice”. Tosha is one of the dozens of people, mainly women and children, who, from dawn, gather at the bank of the Lukuga River and Lake Tanganyika which is close by to fetch water.

Although the bacterium responsible for cholera thrives in the lake, causing epidemics each year during the rainy season, between October and April, the water is meant for consumption, for lack of access to a clean source.

Carrying a yellow can, Tosha laboriously climbs the banks up to one of the 57 points of chlorination put in place by the Congolese Red Cross, the major partner of UNICEF in the fight against the worst cholera outbreak experienced by the province of Tanganyika since 2009.

The worst cholera epidemic since 2009

Even though a little over 1000 cases are usually recorded during each rainy season, since November 2016, the Provincial Division of Health has already recorded 3012 cases and, even when the dry season has started, the epidemic has not ended.

Consequently, the influx of displaced persons, more than 500000, fleeing the interethnic brutalities ravaging this region in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo since July 2016, mainly gather around Kalémie, the provincial capital located close to the lake, and live in precarious conditions of water and sanitation.

Raphaella, from drama to action

Today, the point of chlorination of the Kaseke market, an outlying area of Kalémie where an IDP camp has been set up, sheltering over 2000 families, is managed by Raphaella Kafimbo.

Her task is to add chlorine to the water people fetch free of charge. Aged 64, she is a volunteer of the Red Cross since 2010, a year in which she witnessed the death of her friend from cholera.

“She had severe diarrhoea having the colour of rice, and her eyes became all black. The poor woman didn’t even get a befitting burial. Because of the illness, she was directly taken to the cemetery from the hospital, without anyone getting close to her. This greatly troubled me”.

Since then, Raphaella dedicates three mornings each week to handle the points of chlorination, disinfect the houses and plots of homes where a case of cholera has been reported (but this activity is rather reserved for men who are volunteers for the Red Cross), but mostly to sensitize her community on risks related to diarrhoeic illnesses.

She is part of the 160 women who are members of the eight “clubs of mothers” of Kalémie, the flagship of the local Red Cross.

“We organize collective sensitization sessions and we move from door to door to inform homes on the subject of cholera and the importance of appropriate hygienic practices to avoid contamination”.

“It’s not only a problem of money, but also of mentality”

Gerard, one of the rare men who have come to fetch water this morning, has already participated in a sensitization session organized with the help of UNICEF.

“In my family, we didn’t get any case of cholera since we treat the water with chlorine bought at the market. It costs 900 francs (0.65$) per 250ml, which can treat about 100l. However, most people don’t chlorinate the water. In my opinion, it’s not only a problem of money, but also of mentality”.

With the aim of encouraging such behaviour and making families self-sufficient, UNICEF equally finances the Maman Uzima NGO to enable it locally produce chlorine and to ensure the promotion of its product “the Uzima Plus solution”, sold in 80 pharmacies, shops, hardware shops and by pedlars in the health centres of Kalémie and Niemba.

In May 2017, the association sold off 1700 bottles of 250ml and 1115 bottles of 125ml of this chlorinated solution.

Let’s put an end to the cholera epidemic in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

UNICEF Water

By Gwenn Dubourthoumieu

Translated from French by Adjah Benedict