Patients wait at a hospital amid the spread of cholera and dengue fever cases, in Gadaref city in Sudan on September 27, 2023. Image Credit: AFP

Geneva: A new World Health Organization analysis suggests cholera is surging worldwide, with the number of cholera cases doubling from 2021 to 2022.

The statistics show rising cholera rates and larger outbreaks around the globe, with 44 countries reporting cholera cases in 2022. The largest outbreaks, all exceeding 10,000 documented or suspected cases, took place in Afghanistan, Cameroon, Democratic Republic of Congo, Malawi, Nigeria, Somalia and Syria, the agency reports.

Overall, the WHO tallied 472,697 cases worldwide last year, compared with 223,370 the previous year. In 2022, 2,349 people died of cholera, the WHO reported.

Cholera is spread by food or water contaminated with Vibrio cholerae, a bacterium that causes acute diarrhea and dehydration.

Though most people infected with cholera are asymptomatic, the disease can be deadly.

It is most common in overcrowded areas that lack sanitation, such as refugee camps and slums, and disproportionately affects people in communities that are already contending with challenges such as poverty, humanitarian and climate crises, and wars.

While oral cholera vaccines are available, vaccine shortages and the rising outbreak rate have reduced availability. In response to limited supply, the WHO suspended its two-dose vaccination regimen last fall, instead replacing it with a single-dose regimen to stretch the existing stockpiles.

“Evidence on the duration of protection is limited; however, the 1-dose strategy has proven to be effective in responding to outbreaks,” the agency writes. It says that despite new investments in cholera vaccines, it will take two to three years to see the first results of increased vaccine production.

The cholera surge has continued this year. In May, the WHO deemed the ongoing cholera pandemic a “threat to global health security,” calling for “urgent and collective action” and greater investments in preparedness, detection and response.