Kingston Ontario’s history includes a cholera epidemic that, between 1932 and 1934, killed ten percent of the city’s population. Kingston residents are all familiar with the downtown McBurney Park ( known locally as Skeleton Park}, now home to an annual summer arts festival, where many of the victims of this epidemic were buried 180 years ago. Kingston’s popular home-town band, The Tragically Hip, even have a song that references the outbreak. The Hip Museum website has a great summary of the cholera epidemic that basically closed down all the stores in town with the exception of lumber outlets to make coffins.
Cholera was then, and remains now, a serious consequence of inadequate sanitation and clean water. It was not until John Snow traced an outbreak in London to a water pump on Broad Street that we understood that the disease was spread through water exposed to fecal contamination from other infected people.
In Canada today, 99 percent of the population has access to improved sanitation and clean water. Cholera is a disease of the past. But for communities in developing world countries, including those in East Africa, where, by comparison, only 60 percent of people have access to improved sanitation, it remains a serious threat.
Just last week I received an email from Dr. Karen Yeates, a Kingston nephrologist who is currently with her family in Tanzania. She writes:
“I just managed a cholera epidemic over Christmas at the little hospital I am doing some part time consulting at. I never thought I would see it in my lifetime as a physician…..its incredible that we have the ability to do everything we can in this world with technology and medicine but, the poor and disadvantaged in sub-Saharan Africa struggle with diseases of more than a century ago. We have had over 30 cases but no deaths thankfully. We traced it to lack of toilets and clean water in the three communities where it came from. They had stopped boiling water due to lack of ability to afford wood for their fires…its a choice of make food or boiling water but not enough wood for both. Inflation is high here right now due to the strong US dollar and everything has become more expensive for families here.
I was thinking about CAN-ASSIST and how many toilets you have built over the years….we can’t forget about these simple things…..:).
Keep doing what you all do so well. “
The CanAssist African Relief Trust continues to work to improve water and sanitation for schools and communities in East Africa. This week we are starting a latrine project at a school on Ukerewe Island in Lake Victoria. In 2015 we installed clean water supply and toilets in ten different schools, clinics or lakeside villages.
There is little specific treatment for Cholera other than aggressive fluid and electrolyte replacement. Prevention through sanitation, protection of water supplies and hand-washing remains the key. This YouTube video is in Swahili and aimed at instructing African people about the importance of these prevention measures. It is simply presented and without knowing a word of the language it is easy to understand the message.