The UN refugee on Friday reported that a cholera epidemic this week in Tanzania’s lakeside Kagunga area has killed two local people and 29 Burundian refugees, adding to the serious challenges created by the forced population displacement from Burundi.


UNHCR spokesman Arian Edwards, speaking to journalists in Geneva, said the epidemic had “become a new, worrying, and growing additional complication” at a time when thousands of Burundians had fled to neighbouring countries to escape violence linked to the coming presidential election.

“The deaths have been in the port town of Kigoma on Lake Tanganyika, in the nearby villages of Kagunga and Nyarugusu, and among people being transported by ferry from Kagunga to Kigoma,” Edwards said. “To date some 3,000 cases have been reported, and numbers are increasing at 300-400 new cases per day, particularly in Kagunga and nearby areas. At this rate, further cases can be expected over the next days and until the situation can be brought under control,” he added.

The spokesman said preventive water and sanitation measures were essential, and the first two days of treatment were especially important, to rehydrate people.

Cholera is transmitted through drinking contaminated water. The overcrowded and unsanitary situation in Kagunga, a remote lakeside village with limited sanitation, and consumption of water from the lake is believed to be the cause. Parts of the area are cholera endemic.

UNHCR is working with the Ministry of Health and leading a team response to the outbreak with UN and NGO partners, providing emergency health, water and sanitation measures. These include additional supplies of safe water, and airlifting medicines, medical supplies, protective gear, water supply equipment and other items and supplies for the refugees and for government health facilities.

Affected refugees are being treated at newly established treatment centres run by the International Rescue Committee in Kagunga and Kigoma and by the Tanzanian Red Cross Society in Nyaragusu refugee camp. A Médecins Sans Frontières team is working to expand the capacity of the centres. “Together with the government and our UN and NGO partners, we are providing oral rehydration solutions, soap and water purification tablets, and increasing hand-washing facilities,” Edwards said.

Read the rest of the UNHCR press release HERE