21/08/2010 00:33:36
Cameroon authorities blame "bili bili" for spread of cholera
Bili bili, millet-based home-made brew popular in Africa, may be much cheaper than mass-produced alternatives but according to the authorities in Cameroon, its effects can be much worse than a bad hangover.
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The health minister thinks the brew could be contributing to the spread of cholera, whose latest outbreak has killed more than 220 people and infected over 2,800 in the north of the central African country.

"We encourage the populations of the northern region to temporarily suspend the distribution of bili bili to the southern part of the country because this highly appreciated drink could be a vector that will take cholera to other districts and regions of the country," Andre Mama Fouda said recently on national television.

The authorities of the northern Diamare division have gone further and banned the production and sale of bili bili, warning that those who break the ban would be fined or have their production equipment destroyed.

"The liquor is produced under bad hygienic conditions using water coming from wells that are unsafe, and people consume it in groups sharing the same calabash," Ebenezer Akanga, a journalist at state-run broadcaster CRTV, told AlertNet.

"I'm sure when the outbreak is over, they'll allow people to produce it again," he said by telephone from the northern town of Maroua.

Worries over bili bili highlight the lack of clean drinking water and proper sanitation facilities, which leads to the contamination of water. These two problems are the main causes of the cholera outbreak in the region.

Less than 5 percent of the more than 3 million inhabitants of Cameroon's Far North region have access to latrines and only 30 percent enjoy clean drinking water, according to the government and the United Nations.

"If people had clean water to drink or make their local beer, proper sanitation and health centres with adequate medication and skilled professionals, this cholera outbreak would not have reached these proportions," said a U.N. official in Dakar who did not want to be named.

"The development problems of this region (west and central Africa) are such that any epidemic or natural disaster, whether small or medium, turns into a humanitarian catastrophe with death tolls, as the one we are witnessing in the north of Cameroon," the official added.

The health minister told reporters in Yaounde the government is re-training health workers on how to deal with cholera and launching campaigns to publicise the importance of hygiene in preventing further infections.

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