BEIRUT (AP) — Lebanese health minister said on Friday authorities are inspecting suspected cases of cholera, less than a day after the poor country confirmed its first case of the disease since 1993.
The news came nearly a month after an outbreak of the disease in war-torn neighboring Syria.
Firas Abiad, Lebanon’s temporary health minister, said in a news conference that the first case was a middle-aged Syrian refugee living in the impoverished northern province of Akkar, and confirmed a second case in the area.
“There are several other suspicious cases,” Abiad said. “Cholera is a disease that is easily transmissible.”
The developments are taking place as Lebanon’s economy continues to grow, pushing three quarters of the population into poverty. Rampant power cuts, water shortages and skyrocketing inflation have worsened the living conditions of millions of people.
The Lebanese health minister added that authorities have been working for weeks with the United Nations Children’s Fund and the World Health Organization to ensure the poor country can respond to a potential outbreak and expand testing capacity in hospitals and labs.
“We’re making sure there’s safe water and a good sewage system,” Abiad said.
According to the WHO, cholera infection is caused by consuming food or water contaminated with the Vibrio cholerae bacteria, and while most cases are mild to moderate, failure to treat the disease can lead to death.
About 1 million Syrians refugees who fled their country’s civil war live in neighboring Lebanon. Most live in extreme poverty in tent camps or in overcrowded apartments.
Poverty has also deepened for many Lebanese, often with many families ration waterunable to afford private water tanks for potable and domestic use.
The health minister said Lebanon has been provided with the necessary equipment and medicines to treat patients.
Richard Brennan, Regional Emergency Director of WHO Eastern Mediterranean told The Associated Press on Thursday that the organization has also coordinated with other Syrian neighbors to help respond to a potential outbreak.
However, he said vaccines are scarce due to global demand.
The UN and the Syrian Ministry of Health have said the source of the outbreak is likely linked to people drinking unsafe water from the Euphrates River and using contaminated water to irrigate crops, leading to food contamination.
Syria’s health services have suffered greatly from the years of war, while much of the country has insufficient supplies to treat water.
Syrian health officials on Wednesday documented at least 594 cases of cholera and 39 deaths. Meanwhile, health authorities in the rebel-held northwest of the country documented 605 suspected cases, dozens of confirmed cases and at least one death.
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