Syria cholera outbreak poses 'serious threat'

The UN has called for an urgent response to contain the spread of the illness

A lab technician works on samples to test for cholera, at a hospital in Syria's northern city of Aleppo. AFP
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A cholera outbreak in several areas presents "a serious threat to people in Syria and the region", according to the UN.

UN regional humanitarian co-ordinator Imran Riza has called for an urgent response to contain the spread of the illness.

The outbreak is believed to be linked to people drinking unsafe water from the Euphrates river, as well as the irrigation of crops with contaminated water.

The widespread destruction of national water infrastructure after more than a decade of war means much of the Syrian population is reliant on unsafe sources.

The Euphrates river bisects Syria from the north to the east.

Richard Brennan, the World Health Organisation regional emergency director in the eastern Mediterranean region, said the agency had recorded eight deaths from the disease since August 25, six in Aleppo in the north and two in Deir Al Zor in the east.

"This is the first confirmed cholera outbreak in recent years," he told Reuters. "The geographic spread gives cause for concern and so we have to move fast."

A cholera-infected woman receives treatment at a hospital in Syria's northern city of Aleppo on September 11. AFP

The outbreak is centred in the northern Aleppo region, where more than 70 per cent of a total of 936 suspected cases have been recorded, and Deir Al Zor, where more than 20 per cent were registered.

A smaller number of suspected cases have been recorded in Raqqa, Al Hasaka, Hama and Lattakia.

The number of confirmed cholera cases is 20 in Aleppo, four in Lattakia and two in Damascus.

Prior to the recent cholera outbreak, the water crisis had caused an increase in diseases such as diarrhea, malnutrition and skin conditions in the region, according to the WHO.

Mr Brennan said the WHO was appealing to donors to increase funding as the organisation was already dealing with a number of cholera outbreaks in the region, including in Pakistan where floods have exacerbated an existing situation.

"We need to scale up surveillance and testing capacity ... efforts are under way to truck clean water to the communities most affected," he said.

Updated: September 13, 2022, 11:40 AM