Death toll rises as cholera hits Ukraine and Albania

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The Independent Online
AUTHORITIES in Ukraine considered yesterday whether to close holiday homes on the Black Sea as the death toll from one of Europe's worst cholera outbreaks rose above 30. Paramilitary guards stood outside three hospitals in Simferopol, capital of the Crimean peninsula, where more than 1,300 people are being treated for cholera and other intestinal diseases.

'The disease is now being spread among members of families. That is why the figures are getting higher,' said Anatoly Padchenko, a specialist. Valery Samoplavsky, the Deputy Prime Minister, said the government would decide this week whether to close all schools in Simferopol as well as holiday homes in Yalta and Alushta on the Black Sea. Yalta was a favourite destination for millions of tourists in Russia and other former Soviet republics. Politburo members took holidays there.

In the last two months at least 18 people have died of cholera in the Russian republic of Dagestan, eight have died in Albania and seven in Ukraine. Officials in Dagestan, where hundreds have the disease, say they have brought the crisis under control, partly by enlisting Interior Ministry troops and medical students.

But authorities in Albania, where the first reports of cholera emerged less than two weeks ago, said yesterday that 103 cases had been confirmed in five areas of the country, including Tirana, the capital. World Health Organisation experts have arrived in Albania to monitor the crisis and the Italian navy has increased patrols in the Adriatic to stop potentially infected Albanians from entering Italy illegally.

The worst affected region in Ukraine is Crimea, but cases have been reported in places as far apart as Chernivtsi, on the border with Romania, and the industrial city of Dnipropetrovsk, several hundred miles to the east. In Simferopol, officials said intense heat and acute water shortages had contributed to the cholera epidemic.

Other factors include poor standards of hygiene, inadequate medical and water purification services, and a far-reaching economic crisis in the last three years that has led to vagrancy.

According to Ukrainian reports about half those ill with cholera and similar diseases are homeless. 'The spread of cholera and other infectious diseases is the calling card of an economy in trouble,' Alexander Moroz, the chairman of Ukraine's parliament, told deputies this week as they debated the crisis.

The cholera outbreak could hardly have come at a worse time for Crimea, where a power struggle flared between the peninsula's president, Yuri Meshkov, and the local parliament. At the same time, pro- Russian Crimean politicians are struggling to win more autonomy, or even independence, from the central Ukrainian government in Kiev.