According to international health experts, the country is in the midst of a cholera outbreak, while Ethiopian authorities have previously reported the outbreak as an acute watery diarrhea (AWD). In April, the Ethiopian government declared that an outbreak of AWD has been ongoing since January in the drought-ridden Somali (Ogaden) region, and has affected approximately 16,000 people. Due to the region’s remoteness, the high proportion of nomadic lifestyles, and incomplete recordkeeping, both the number of deaths and the cause of the outbreak are unclear. Ethiopian health officials reportedly refuse to call the outbreak “cholera,” claiming that such a designation requires a laboratory diagnosis, which the country has yet been unable to confirm. Regional authorities have reportedly set up temporary emergency treatment centers in the region.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Ethiopia may increase the risk of cholera transmission.
The AWD is a symptom of an intestinal tract infection.
Cholera spreads via contaminated food and water. Cholera, an infectious disease caused by the Vibrio cholerae bacteria that can induce acute diarrhea, is endemic in Ethiopia. In August 2016, an outbreak of the disease affected the country, with more than half of the cases reported in the capital, Addis Ababa. The risk of death is greatest among people with low immunity, such as malnourished children or those living with HIV. However, even among healthy adults, cholera can be fatal within a matter of hours.
Ethiopia is one of several East African nations, including South Sudan, Somalia, and Kenya that are suffering from two failed rainy seasons, leading to food shortages and livestock deaths across the region. The drought is said to be the worst in five years. According to the government commission responsible for the nation’s disaster crisis management, nearly 7.7 million people are in need of emergency food aid throughout the country.
Individuals present in Ethiopia - especially in the Somali region - are advised to take precautionary measures. To reduce the risk of contracting cholera, wash hands regularly, drink only bottled or purified water, and avoid eating raw or undercooked foods. Individuals who believe they may have contracted cholera should seek immediate medical attention.