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[WINDHOEK] Cholera has broken out in several nations in Southern Africa and has been blamed on sewage contamination in Angola.

Namibian health authorities confirmed the outbreak yesterday (13 February), saying six people in northern villages along the border with Angola have been taken ill with the disease.

According to the World Health Organization, the disease has killed more than 1,200 people in Angola over the past three months, with 35,000 others infected.

Cholera is a severe intestinal disease caused by the bacteria Vibrio cholerae. It causes severe diarrhoea and can lead to death within 24 hours if left untreated. Contaminated drinking water and poor sanitation are common causes of infection.

Kalumbi Shangula, permanent secretary for the Ministry of Health and Social Service in Namibia said five of the six cases were believed to have been contracted in Angola.

"It seems that the epicentre is situated in Angola spreading from there to Congo, Mozambique, Zambia, Zimbabwe and now Namibia. Most of the outbreaks have occurred in informal settlement areas around towns," said Shangula.

Zambia has registered 5,500 cases of cholera and the disease has claimed about 90 lives in Congo, with 2,700 others infected. Mozambique's capital city, Maputo, has had over 700 cases so far.

The outbreak has been put down to the overflow of sewage-contaminated water into the Ruacana river from Angola following floods last month. Angola's crowded slums lack adequate water supplies and sanitation, which facilitates infection.

Contaminated Angolan water supplies have also been blamed for an outbreak of gastroenteritis in northern Namibia. There have been over 200 cases in Namibia so far, according to reports by the IRIN news agency.

Shangula said health officials are distributing water treatment pills and have set up medical treatment centres in the areas along the border, in an attempt to prevent the two epidemics spreading.

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