31 August 2010The cholera outbreak that started earlier this month in central Afghanistan is now under control, the United Nations and its partners reported today, stressing that early detection and collaboration among key actors were key to averting a public health crisis. The World Health Organization (WHO) and the Ministry of Public Health (MoPH) initiated a response immediately after the outbreak began on 9 August in the Nowa district of Ghazni province.“Early detection of diseases is tantamount to saving lives,” said Peter Graaff, WHO’s Representative in Afghanistan. “Thanks to a strong disease surveillance system and close collaboration between the MoPH, UN agencies and health NGOs [non-governmental organizations] we were quickly able to limit the magnitude of the outbreak and save lives.”Afghanistan’s disease early warning system (DEWS) is now operational in all 34 provinces, and includes more than 300 surveillance officers, who help to detect and respond to disease outbreaks within 48 hours. “In 2009 alone, we were able to rapidly respond to and control 35 cholera outbreaks and treated 1,721 reported cases across 15 provinces,” said WHO epidemiologist Rashida Bano. Cholera is an acute intestinal infection picked up through contaminated food or water. It can result in diarrhoea that can lead to severe dehydration and even death without prompt treatment. WHO donated life-saving supplies, including cholera kits and other emergency medical supplies in the wake of the outbreak earlier this month, which affected at least 130 people. Mr. Graaff noted that one of the challenges with regard to cholera control in Afghanistan is the insecurity in parts of the country which make it difficult to carry out timely investigations and responses. Due to security concerns involving health ministry and UN staff, WHO said that three local NGO staff members were trained in outbreak investigation, including sample collection and treatment.WHO added that diarrhoeal diseases are endemic to Afghanistan and there is a seasonal increase from July to September. Most of the vulnerability to waterborne diseases comes from contaminated water sources, as only 23 per cent of Afghans have access to safe drinking water.