Home | Comment & Analysis    Thursday 5 October 2017

Cholera in Sudan is now endemic—and yet UN WHO says nothing


Eric Reeves

Cholera in Sudan now has a deadly grip, continuing to re-emerge in areas thought free of the disease. It is a pandemic in Sudan, which now appears to be endemic. Unless the UN’s World Health Organization (WHO) finds the courage to defy Khartoum’s prohibition on use of the word “cholera,” treatment resources will be limited and the epidemic will continue. Ultimate responsibility for this will clearly belong to the Director-General of WHO, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus (see a superb Washington Post overview of the crisis by Glenn Kessler (“As the death toll climbs in Sudan, officials shy away from the ‘cholera’ label,” September 14, 2017).

Laboratory tests by Sudanese doctors have confirmed that the disease is cholera, and yet WHO has conducted no tests on the faecal specimens of victims: https://www.dabangasudan.org/en/all-news/article/medics-cholera-spreading-in-sudan .

Disingenuously, WHO in Geneva simply says:

’WHO has not received any lab results to date that confirm cholera in Sudan,’ said Gregory Hartl, a WHO spokesman.

What Hartl does not say is that WHO has made no effort to secure laboratory results for faecal samples from victims or to disconfirm the results announced by Sudanese doctors who found cholera in the laboratory.

If there really is no cholera in Sudan—a preposterous proposition in light of the evidence at hand—why doesn’t WHO confirm its absence by testing faecal samples of those who have died of “Acute Watery Diarrhea”? Why not bring an end to this absurd scepticism?

The answer is all too simple: WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus refuses to confront the brutal Khartoum regime over its refusal to use the word "cholera" to describe the disease ravaging Sudan. See in this connection an Open Letter to the Director-General of WHO from a group of American physicians, including specialists in infectious diseases. They rightly declare of Dr Tedros:

“Your failure to transport stool samples from victims in Sudan to Geneva for official confirmation of cholera makes you fully complicit in the terrible suffering and dying that continues to spread, out of control, with daily new reports confirming that this is indeed a cholera epidemic.”

For its part, as Kessler points out dramatically in his Washington Post article, the United States government is engaged in wildly contradictory statements, a function of pure expediency:

“As of July 7, health actors had recorded more than 23,200 cases of acute watery diarrhoea (AWD) since August 2016, according to the U.N. World Health Organization (WHO) and the Government of Sudan (GoS) Ministry of Health (MoH).”
— U.S. Agency for International Development, fact sheet, July 27, 2017

“The U.S. Embassy in Khartoum informs U.S. citizens that there are confirmed reports of cholera cases in some areas of Sudan, including the greater Khartoum metropolitan area, that have resulted in fatalities.” (emphasis added)
— U.S. Embassy in Khartoum, emergency message, June 1, 2017

The Trump administration is thus also complicit in the suffering and dying that continue mercilessly throughout Sudan. Can there be any doubt that this is related to the impending decision to lift permanently sanctions on this genocidal regime?

Khartoum for its part has made clear to journalists that using the word “cholera” is cause for arrest; medical personnel using the word “cholera” will be dismissed from even senior positions, as one hospital official in Khartoum has discovered.

International non-governmental humanitarian organizations in Sudan cannot report what they know to be cholera as such because they will be expelled—at least until the UN’s WHO and Director-General Dr. Tedros find the courage to defy Khartoum’s obscenely destructive censorship and use the correct word for the epidemic in Sudan, cholera.

Meanwhile, treatment resources are far too scarce—particularly re-hydration equipment and physicians and epidemiologists who specialize in cholera—and many cholera victims are not treated at all, or only minimally, or simply isolated

The international community as a whole is disgracing itself by not demanding that Khartoum allow a disease infecting and killing so many tens of thousands of Sudanese be named for what it is: cholera.

Eric Reeves, Senior Fellow at Harvard University’s François-Xavier Bagnoud Center for Health and Human Rights

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