It kills within hours': two die as cholera outbreak spreads in Ugandan capital


Health officials battle to stop disease spreading in Kampala slums with lack of toilets and poor sanitation made worse by heavy rains

Filling water cans in a slum in Kampala, where lack of toilets and clean water is exacerbating the spread of cholera in some areas. Photograph: Ute Grabowsky/Photothek via Getty Images

Two people have died in a new cholera outbreak in the overcrowded slums of Uganda’s capital, Kampala.

The ministry of health confirmed at the weekend that there were 43 suspected cases of cholera in the city and that two people had died. It said an emergency isolation unit had been set up.

“More efforts are needed to ensure that the cholera outbreak is contained. We should work more to ensure we don’t have many cases,” said Joyce Moriku Kaducu, Uganda’s state minister for primary health care. The current heavy rains are expected to exacerbate the spread of the disease.

“[Cholera] kills a person within hours,” she said. “The public is urged to be vigilant and report any suspected cases to the nearest health facility.”

The city suburbs affected by the outbreak are all densely populated, with poor hygiene practices, improper disposal of domestic and human waste, and high consumption of untreated water.

Most slum dwellers have no toilets in their houses and the common practice is to defecate in polythene bags and dump the contents in open trenches and pools of floodwater.

“The recent outbreak of cholera, mostly [affecting] some city suburbs, is mainly due to improper waste disposal and water contaminated with faecal content as the leading cause of spreading bacteria,” said Charlotte Kusemererwa, a project officer who works in Kampala with the Joy For Children organisation.

'We see mothers die and children die': Uganda's teen pregnancy crisis

 “The common denominator of all slums around Kampala is the open drainage channels littered with domestic, industrial and human wastes. When the rains sweep in, running water carries all kind of waste and dumps it in open drains, causing a massive blockage and hence flooding.”

Asia Russell, executive director at Health GAP, an international organisation working to improve access to medicines, said: “Refusal of government to invest in free, essential services like toilets, safe water and collection of garbage, particularly in the most densely populated communities, is to blame.

“People in slums deserve to live with dignity and free from cholera,” she said. “Instead, they are being neglected and put in harm’s way. Where will they find money for treatment?”

As 2019 begins…

… we’re asking readers to make a new year contribution in support of The Guardian’s independent journalism. More people are reading our independent, investigative reporting than ever but advertising revenues across the media are falling fast. And unlike many news organisations, we haven’t put up a paywall – we want to keep our reporting as open as we can. So you can see why we need to ask for your help.

The Guardian is editorially independent, meaning we set our own agenda. Our journalism is free from commercial bias and not influenced by billionaire owners, politicians or shareholders. No one edits our editor. No one steers our opinion. This is important as it enables us to give a voice to those less heard, challenge the powerful and hold them to account. It’s what makes us different to so many others in the media, at a time when factual, honest reporting is critical.