Cholera Today

Written by Kathleen Artman

Every fifteen seconds around the world a child dies from bad water and sanitation. While access to clean water and sanitation is not an issue that many average people in the developed world are concerned with, over one billion people around the world lack access to safe water. That is why Water Aid, an international non-governmental organization (NGO), has the stated mission to improve “access to safe water, hygiene and sanitation in the world’s poorest communities.” Additionally, in 2010, the UN General Assembly declared access to clean water and sanitation a basic human right. This basic human right is one that we often take for granted, but unfortunately the lack of clean water and sanitation is the leading cause of the rampant global pandemic of cholera that plagues millions around the world today.

The acute diarrheal disease, cholera, is estimated by the World Health Organization (WHO) to kill 100,000-120,000 people a year with 3-5 million cases annually. The number of cholera cases is only increasing every year despite improved scientific knowledge and technology. In 2009 eleven different countries reported cases of cholera to WHO, totaling in over 24,000 cases and 114 deaths. In 2010, 717,534 cases of cholera were reported among forty-eight different countries with 7,543 reported deaths. These numbers do not even include the over 500,000 cases of “acute watery diarrhea” annually reported in Southeastern and central Asia. In reality, the actual numbers are probably much higher, but because of the limitations in examination measures and surveillance systems and a fear in many countries of travel or trade sanctions, reported figures are lower than actual figures.


Once cholera is contracted, 80% of people with the disease can be easily treated through the administration of oral rehydration salts. WHO recommends that cholera treatment centers (CTCs) be set up in infected areas to administer treatment effectively. This administration can reduce the fatalities due to the disease to less than 1%. This treatment, however, does not address the root issue of a lack of clean water and sanitation. Prior to any outbreaks, simply providing clean drinking water can prevent cholera. Water Aid continually stresses that safe water and sanitation are crucial to the prevention and further spread of cholera and other related diarrheal diseases.

According to WHO, 65% of infant deaths due to cholera and related illnesses in developing countries could be prevented with clean drinking water and sanitation. Water Aid believes that the keys to prevent diarrheal illnesses—including cholera, typhoid and dysentery—are access to clean water, clean hands prior to mealtime and uncontaminated food supply. Hygiene education to create a locally sustainable solution to the global water and sanitation issue is another crucial aspect of the prevention of cholera. Water Aid strives to help reduce the risk of disease and thus begin to eliminate poverty by partnering with local groups to create locally sustainable solutions. If individual communities do not know how to achieve the foresaid hygienic practices, then the solution to the cholera problem will not be sustainable.

Numerous countries in Asia, Africa, and the Americas still suffer from cholera today. Typically the African region suffers the most from cholera outbreaks; however, there have been numerous large outbreaks in other regions of the world—the most recent being Haiti in 2010. While cholera is more prevalent in some countries than others, no country is exempt from the disease—it is a pandemic that transcends both geographical space and time. For more information on specific countries affected by cholera refer to the map below of reported cholera outbreaks in from 2007 to 2009. When many people think of cholera they think it is a disease of the past, strictly confined to the Industrial Revolution and Charles Dickens’ novels. It is clear from statistics, however, that cholera is still a very active disease around the world, even if we are not directly affected by it. For more information on WaterAid visit

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