Zambia says new cases dropping in deadly cholera outbreak

JOHANNESBURG — Zambia has struggled to contain one of its deadliest cholera outbreaks in years, sending soldiers into a slum last week to keep order, collaborating with the World Health Organization on a vaccination program and even declaring a week of prayer.

Health Minister Chitalu Chilufya this week said there has been a "drastic reduction" in the number of new cases in the outbreak which has killed more than 70 people in the southern African nation since October, most of them in the capital, Lusaka. The provision of fresh water, education in waste disposal and personal hygiene and other preventive measures are being taken, the minister said.

"The cholera outbreak is being contained," Chilufya said.

WHO is assisting with the vaccination of Lusaka residents against cholera after the delivery of enough doses to immunize one million people. There are plans to vaccinate another one million people in "cholera hotspots" nationwide later this year, WHO said.

The United States has provided chlorine drops to purify 120 million liters of water, and six experts from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are in Zambia to work with local health officials, the U.S. Embassy said. A team from Israel's Sheba Medical Center has also traveled to Zambia, treating cholera victims at an emergency clinic set up in a Lusaka stadium.

Last week, the Zambian military moved in after some residents in the densely populated Lusaka slum of Kanyama rioted over the removal of market vendors, a measure designed to improve hygiene. The army deployed after police struggled to control rioters who destroyed property and looted shops.

The cholera outbreak forced schools to close and public gatherings such as church meetings to be curtailed, though the government says it plans to ease the restrictions.

Zambia's religious affairs minister, Rev. Godfridah Sumaili, declared a week of prayer and fasting under the slogan: "Kick out cholera from the land."

Some Zambians said the observance, set to end on Sunday, is a distraction from alleged government failures to provide public toilets in slums, improve the garbage collection system and address water shortages in Lusaka.

Cholera is caused by ingestion of contaminated food or water and can kill within hours if untreated.

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Follow Christopher Torchia on Twitter at www.twitter.com/torchiachris

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