Cholera making a comeback worldwide after years of decline : UN experts.

UN health experts have warned that cholera, a 19th-century disease, may be making a 'devastating' comeback after years of decline.

In a new alert, the World Health Organization (WHO), a Geneva-based UN agency, and UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) said that more countries now face outbreaks, increasing numbers of cases are being reported and the outcome for patients is worse than 10 years ago.

'The pandemic is killing the poor right in front of us,' Jerome Pfaffmann Zambruni, Head of UNICEF's Public Health Emergency unit, said in a statement.

Echoing the bleak outlook, WHO data indicates that by May last year, 15 countries had reported cases, but by mid-May this year 'we already have 24 countries reporting and we anticipate more with the seasonal shift in cholera cases,' said Henry Gray, WHO's Incident Manager for the global cholera response.

'Despite advances in the control of the disease made in the previous decades we risk going backwards.'

The UN health agency estimates that one billion people in 43 countries are at risk of cholera with children under five particularly vulnerable. Cholera's extraordinarily high mortality ratio is also alarming. Malawi and Nigeria registered case fatality rates as high as three per cent this year, well above the acceptable one per cent.

Southeastern Africa is particularly badly affected, with infections spreading in Malawi, Mozambique, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe. The development follows the destructive passage of Cyclone Freddy in February and March this year, leaving 800,000 people in Malawi and Mozambique internally displaced and disrupting healthcare.

These vulnerable communities are at high risk of cholera, a preventable disease that thrives in areas affected by heavy rains and floods.

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