DR Congo Children Suffer Amidst Worst Cholera Outbreak Since 2017, UNICEF Reports

DR Congo Children Suffer Amidst Worst Cholera Outbreak Since 2017, UNICEF Reports

UNICEF-supported Cholera Treatment Center in Bulengo, a site for displaced persons in North Kivu province, DR Congo.

18 August 2023

A surge in conflict and internal displacement in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has led to the most severe cholera crisis for children in six years, warns UNICEF. Over 8,000 children below five years old from North Kivu have been affected within 2023's initial seven months. This alarming number is over six times the total cases reported for the entire previous year.

By the end of July 2023, the DRC had already registered over 31,342 suspected or confirmed cholera cases and 230 fatalities, with children being a significant portion of the affected population. North Kivu, the hardest-hit province, reported more than 21,400 of these cases, a stark contrast to the 5,120 cases in 2022, of which children under five accounted for only 1,200.

Shameza Abdulla, the Senior Emergency Coordinator for UNICEF DRC, expressed deep concern from Goma. "The scale and potential devastation of this cholera outbreak is alarming. If we don't act urgently, we risk the disease expanding to regions untouched in years. Displacement sites, already stretched thin, are particularly vulnerable, and with an increased risk of illnesses, even death, especially for children. The suffering endured by these displaced families is immeasurable."

The country's worst displacement crisis has further exacerbated the situation. DRC, grappling with the most substantial displacement challenge in Africa, has witnessed over 1.5 million people, including more than 800,000 children, moving from North Kivu, South Kivu, and Ituri provinces since January this year. Displacement camps are alarmingly overcrowded and ill-equipped to handle the influx, intensifying the cholera threat.

Lack of basic amenities in these camps is also a cause for concern. For instance, in camps surrounding Goma, nearly 300,000 individuals, including 183,000 children, face a dire shortage of water and sanitation resources. Shockingly, less than a third have access to latrines, with an average of 159 people sharing one.

Recent investigations by the Ministry of Public Health revealed that a staggering 62% to 99% of the affected households in North Kivu's major cholera hubs were those displaced this year. These families face multiple health threats, including malnutrition and limited access to prenatal care and vaccines.

To combat this emergency, UNICEF has issued an appeal for US$ 62.5 million to enhance their prevention and response measures for the next five months. The funds will aim to assist 1.8 million people, including 1 million children, providing them with safe water, hygiene kits, medical supplies, and child-centric cholera care. However, the appeal currently remains 9% funded, signaling a dire need for international support.