Following Syria, Lebanon is facing an apparent cholera outbreak, its first in long years.
Syria’s health ministry has recorded 39 deaths from cholera and nearly 600 cases in an outbreak spreading in the war-ravaged country that the United Nations warned is “evolving alarmingly.”
“In Syria, more than 10,000 suspected cases of cholera have been reported just in the past six weeks,” the World Health Organization (WHO) said in a briefing this week.
Most of those who have died are in the northern province of Aleppo, and it was not immediately clear if the dead were included in the overall case tally.
It is the first major outbreak of cholera in Syria in more than a decade.
In Lebanon, the health minister said on Friday that authorities were inspecting suspected cases of cholera, less than a day after the cash-strapped country confirmed its first case of the illness since 1993.
Firas Abiad, Lebanon’s caretaker health minister, said in a press conference that the first case was a middle-aged Syrian refugee man living in the impoverished northern province of Akkar, and confirmed a second case in the area.
“There are several other suspected cases,” Abiad said. “Cholera is an illness that is easily transmissible.”
The developments take place as Lebanon’s economy continues to spiral, plunging three-quarters of its population into poverty. Rampant power cuts, water shortages, and skyrocketing inflation have deteriorated living conditions for millions.
The Lebanese health minister added that the authorities have been working with the United Nations Children’s Fund and World Health Organization for weeks to ensure the cash-strapped country can respond to a possible outbreak, and expand testing capacities at hospitals and labs.
“We’re making sure that there is safe water and a good sewage system,” Abiad said.
The UN and Syria’s Health Ministry 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, resulting in food contamination.
Syria’s health services have suffered heavily from its years-long war, while much of the country is short on supplies to sanitize water.