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Cholera has spread throughout Lebanon, says WHO

November 2, 2022

Lebanon has reported about 1,400 cases of cholera since mid-October, according to the UN's health agency. A first batch of vaccines from France arrived in the country this week.

Medical staff look after an elderly woman with cholera
The WHO says the disease likely spread to Lebanon from SyriaImage: Marwan Naamani/dpa/picture alliance

The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned that cholera is spreading "rapidly" across Lebanon. 

The Middle East country reported its first cholera case since 1993 in October. The disease has now spread to every region of the country, with 1,400 suspected cases in total, according to the WHO. The outbreak started in the northern town of Bebnine, where most cases have been found. A field hospital has been set up there by authorities.

The country is currently undergoing an economic crisis, coupled with political instability. President Michel Aoun left his post this week, ending his six-year term without a replacement. A caretaker government is currently in place.

Where did cholera spread from?

WHO Regional Emergency Director Rick Brennan said it likely came in from Syria, where there are now about 20,000 suspected cases.

Cholera bacteria spreads through contaminated water, food or sewage. It carries the risk of kidney failure or even death, but is treatable through medication. It is transmitted through the fecal-oral route, which increases the risk of an outbreak.

The number of outbreaks worldwide have sharply increased this year. Floods, droughts, conflicts, migration and other factors leading to decreased access to clean water are behind this, says the WHO. 

Due to a shortage in vaccine supply, the UN agency has changed the recommended vaccine procedure from two doses to one dose for the time being. 

Lebanon received its first batch of vaccines on Monday. The shipment of 13,000 doses was donated by the philanthropic arm of French health care company Sanofi, and the delivery was facilitated by the French government. Lebanese Health Minister Firass Abiad told reporters the shots would play "an essential role" in limiting the disease's spread. 

The outbreak was "a new and worrying illustration of the critical decline in public provision of access to water and sanitary services in Lebanon," French Ambassador Anne Grillo said.

The WHO is providing support to Lebanon for medical personnel, equipment and laboratory resources, vaccines, as well as providing training in clinics and hospitals. 

tg/nm (dpa, AFP, Reuters)