Health agency warns of cholera on Madagascar

ANTANANARIVO, Madagascar -- Madagascar, which attracts more than 100,000 visitors annually because of its famed beaches, rain forests and wildlife, is in the midst of a cholera epidemic, according to the World Health Organization.

The outbreak began in March 1999 and currently is affecting four provinces: Antananarivo, Antisiranana, Tollary and Mahajanga. The latter province has experienced the most deaths, the WHO noted.

Between December and mid-January, about 3,200 new cases were recorded, along with 121 deaths. About 7,000 cases and 433 deaths had been recorded by the end of November.

A dispute over responsibility for administering treatment occurred between the island's government and the Swiss section of the organization Doctors Without Borders.

The dispute resulted in the withdrawal of the outside physicians, and treatment is now under the control of government health officials. The epidemic is not likely to subside in Madagascar until after the rainy season ends, in late March or April, the WHO said.

Agents can check the WHO Web site at www.who.int. There also is information about cholera on the federal Centers for Disease Control Web site at www.cdc.gov.

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