Cholera outbreak spreads in Lebanon

Special Cholera outbreak spreads in Lebanon
Jounieh Bay in Keserwan-Jbeil Governorate, Lebanon. (Wikimedia Commons)
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Updated 19 October 2022

Cholera outbreak spreads in Lebanon

Cholera outbreak spreads in Lebanon
  • Health Minister Firass Abiad said that the majority of cases were among Syrian refugees
  • Firass Abiad: Contaminated water in many regions is the main element contributing to the increase in cases

BEIRUT: Cholera is spreading fast across Lebanon, with 80 confirmed cases recorded over two days this week.

Health Minister Firass Abiad said on Wednesday that the majority were among Syrian refugees. However, he added that  “there has been an increase in cases among the Lebanese.”

The ministry said the new cases had raised the total to 169, including two in Kesserwan, Mount Lebanon. Two more deaths have also been recorded, raising the toll to five.

Lebanon recorded its first two cholera cases on Oct. 5 — a Syrian refugee and a Lebanese woman in the northern region of Akkar. The area has multiple border crossing points with Syria, where hundreds of cases have also been recorded.

Abiad said: “Contaminated water in many regions is the main element contributing to the increase in cases, in addition to the contamination of vegetables from irrigation water. Coming into contact with an infected person is also a contributing factor.”

He added that rolling power cuts were depriving water pumping stations of “sufficient” clean water.

“The water that remains in the pipelines becomes polluted after a while and it is important to supply water treatment plants with sufficient power in order to secure clean water,” he said.

“UNICEF secured diesel for use at the Bekaa and North water pumping stations in order to get rid of any water that might be contaminated.”

Abiad said that the solution to the spread of the disease lies in “securing a sufficient quantity of chlorine that will be distributed to purify the water,” and added that his ministry was equipping a field hospital in Arsal on the Syrian border.

“There are eight field hospitals ready for the distribution of medical supplies and serums. The vaccines available globally are scarce due to the presence of several cholera hotspots, but we were promised quantities of the vaccine.”

The spread of the disease in Lebanon has significantly hit the health sector amid the economic collapse. The country witnessed a cholera outbreak 32 years ago across the country, leaving many people dead.

Dr. Bilal Abdallah, an MP and member of the parliamentary health committee, said the rise in cases was concerning. 

“Relevant authorities should follow up on the issues of sanitation, water safety and the procedures of the responsible international organizations, as well as control the movement on the border to and from infested areas in Syria,” he said.

The disease has spread in the Bekaa governorate, with 14 cases so far. Last week, one case was recorded at the Qab Elias refugee camp, in a refugee who had traveled from an infected camp in the north of Lebanon. Two cases were also recorded in the Timnin El-Tahta camp.

In a report obtained by Arab News, the UN humanitarian organization UNICEF said that “the recent overlapping crises have significantly affected access to healthcare services, safe and clean drinking water and sanitation services by Lebanon’s host population and refugees.”

It expected “the cases to keep increasing.”

UNICEF said that it had “developed a joint response plan to contain cholera outbreaks and reduce mortality” in cooperation with the World Health Organization and the government. 

Its immediate response will be to boost current water and sanitation systems.

It said that since Oct. 8, it had distributed 80,000 liters of fuel to water pumping stations and wastewater treatment stations.

It has also procured medical supplies, including 150,000 Oral Rehydration Salts and cholera treatment kits, enough to help 5,000 cholera patients or those with symptoms including moderate to severe diarrhea.