Five million people are at risk of cholera in drought-hit Ethiopia, where acute watery diarrhoea has broken out in crowded, unsanitary conditions, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Friday.
Cholera, an acute intestinal infection, causes watery diarrhoea that can quickly lead to severe dehydration and death if treatment is not promptly given, according to the United Nations agency.
"Overall, 8.8 million people are at risk of malaria and 5 million of cholera (in Ethiopia)," WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic said in a note sent to journalists.
Ethiopian health officials have confirmed cases of acute watery diarrhoea in the Somali, Afar and Oromiya regions of Ethiopia, he told Reuters. "It is not confined to the refugees."
WHO is delivering emergency health kits to Ethiopia and helping train health workers in treating malnutrition and in detecting disease outbreaks, he said.
Drought across the Horn of Africa, now affecting more than 11 million people in Ethiopia, Djibouti, Kenya and Somalia, has increased the risk of the spread of infectious diseases, especially polio, cholera and measles, the WHO says.
"So far WHO has not received any report of polio cases, it really important to help countries to keep their polio-free status," Jasarevic said.
Somalis fleeing severe drought and intensified fighting have been arriving at the rate of more than 1,700 a day in Ethiopia, where 4.5 million people now need assistance, nearly a 50 percent rise since April, he said.