Jacob Lusekelo, a laboratory technician. Photo courtesy of WHO/Desloovere Pieter
As of May 16, 2015, a cholera outbreak was confirmed in the Kigoma region, on the shores of Lake Tanganyika, along the Tanzania border with Burundi. Cholera is endemic in the region, but due to a recent influx of thousands of Burundian refugees, overcrowding and poor sanitation, the situation got worse. As of May 28, 2015, a total of 4,487 suspected cholera cases have been reported so far.
Since more than a week ago, laboratory scientist Jacob Lusekelo and his team have worked around the clock at Maweni Hospital in Kigoma, testing dozens of stool samples. During a cholera outbreak, 1 out of 10 stool samples need to be laboratory confirmed by identifying the bacteria Vibrio cholerae.
“The method we use to know if a stool sample tests positive for cholera or not, is called culture and sensitivity,” says Lusekel. “The lab results are known after 48 hours and it basically consists of three phases, the media or reagents preparation, the isolation to identify the organism and lastly result release and waste disposal. The media we use for doing the tests is TCBS or thiosulphate citrate bile salt sucrose. A case of cholera is confirmed when Vibrio cholerae O1 or O139 is isolated from any patient with diarrhea.”
As the laboratory team of Maweni Hospital got overwhelmed with the many stool samples to be tested, WHO facilitated additional human resource support. “Through the World Health Organization (WHO), I was able to come from Dar-es-Salaam to Maweni hospital to give the lab team a much-needed helping hand,” says Lusekelo.
In addition, medical supplies and reagents were sent to the hospital to ensure the continuation of the laboratory activities. With support of WHO, the laboratory team has been able to test so far 107 samples, including 42 samples testing positive for the virulent disease.