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Ivory Coast Conflict Causes Death By Disease Too

ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast - The piles of garbage are chest high outside a marketplace where an ongoing political crisis has halted trash collection and led to a cholera outbreak that has already left seven people dead.

The United Nations has identified cases of targeted killings since Ivory Coast's disputed election in November, but the political battle for the presidency has now started claiming more victims - these ones killed preventable diseases like cholera and yellow fever.

Public hygiene has completely broken down in the Adjame district of Abidjan, said Dr. Bamba Coulibaly, the head of the epidemiological monitoring division with the national institute for public hygiene.

"All this garbage must be removed from the streets of Abidjan immediately," he said.

Both incumbent president Laurent Gbagbo and his opponent Alassane Ouattara claim to have won a Nov. 28 presidential election runoff, though the international community has endorsed Ouattara's victory. Their battle for power has led to violent demonstrations, and has kept many schools and hospitals shut for months.

"Since the political crisis started, the garbage trucks don't come anymore," said Cesar N'Bely, president of the Adjame-nord resident's committee.

The United Nations Children's Fund says that 35 cases of cholera have been identified in Adjame this week and seven of those patients have died.

Along with local authorities, UNICEF and the Red Cross have set up an emergency response in the area, handing out soap and oral hydration salts.

"Cholera is easily treatable, but it must be treated extremely quickly," said Louis Vigneault-Dubois, spokesman for UNICEF in Ivory Coast. "If people don't know that there's a cholera outbreak, they'll treat it as if it were just diarrhea and the victim could die in a matter of hours."

Meanwhile, in the north and west of the country, a second epidemic has surfaced. Some 66 cases of yellow fever have been identified since the presidential election in the largely rural areas of the country. Of those, 11 patients have died.

Here, it isn't garbage collection that's broken down, but access to doctors and nurses. Because of security concerns, many health workers have been staying home and key vaccinations have not been administered to all newborns in small towns and villages near Mankono, Katiola and Beoumi in the north, the International Federation of the Red Cross said in a report released this week.

UNICEF and the Red Cross are also working here to vaccinate children, but say that their work was delayed due to security concerns.

"We couldn't carry out our vaccination campaign in December because of the political situation, but in January things have stabilized enough, so we're going ahead," Vigneault-Dubois said.

Yellow fever is a disease carried by mosquitoes and has no effective treatment, he said, so preventing the disease through vaccinations is of utmost importance.

Children are supposed to be vaccinated at nine months, but many in rural areas where the nearest clinic is a full day's walk away, they don't get vaccinated. Traveling vaccination campaigns were intended to reach these people, but have been scaled back due to the unstable political situation.

After a neighborhood meeting in Adjame, N'Bely asked the teenagers to stick around to see what they could do to help their neighbors.

"This Sunday," he said, "we're going to sweep the garbage out of our neighborhood by hand."

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