By Karim Benmansour
Today, Algeria is under the shock of the cholera outbreak. In fact, in a statement issued by the Ministry of Health, the latter announced officially the infection of 56 people and the death of three of them out of 172 people under treatment in the hospitals.
The ‘abrupt’ outbreak of this disease stirred a widespread debate about its causes, especially with the ambiguity that accompanied its official announcement by the official and Algerian health authorities.
The Algerian press and social network pages launched a large campaign against the authorities because of the chaos they caused dealing with the spread of the epidemic, in addition to the delay of its official announcement, two weeks after its appearance. Therefore, several countries such as France and Egypt warned their emigrants in Algeria to be cautious and adhere to the hygiene rules, while Morocco and Tunisia tightened their health control near the borders for fear of the transmission of the disease inside their countries.
The authorities’ panic
The observers of the outbreak of the cholera epidemic noticed the Algerian authorities’ turmoil in dealing with this file, as the Ministry of Health denied from the outset the existence of the disease until the increase of the number of people affected with the epidemic, 3 days after the cholera gossips.
The Algerian French-language newspaper, Liberté, revealed that the authorities knew about the disease before this announcement, noting that it had an eight-page memorandum dated on August 22 warning all the provinces and health structures of the outbreak of the disease.
Even more seriously, the Algerian news websites, like Everything about Algeria, confirmed that the Pasteur Institute and the Ministry of Health were aware of the disease on the 20th of the same month.
This ambiguity has made the government and health authorities the main subject of "criticism" by some newspapers and opposition parties. The French-speaking newspaper Al-Watan attacked the "chaotic conduct" of the crisis, calling the officials useless and almost absent in handling this crisis since the outbreak of the epidemic.
According to the newspaper, “None of the ministers involved in this issue, i.e. the ministers of health, interior and water resources dared to speak to the people ". Moreover, Elkhabar newspaper said that "The lack of information about the source of the disease caused a phobia among the Algerians, and this chaos and ambiguity prompted the Algerians to boycott the fruits and vegetables, as well as, the water faucet.”
The Algerian health minister, Mokhtar Hasbellaoui has been harshly criticized recently by the media. The Liberté newspaper questioned: “Where is Mokhtar Hasbellaoui?” adding that “The silence of the government among the Algerians’ panics is incomprehensible and unjustified."
The weirdest thing was the great discrepancy and paradox in the statements of officials of the Ministry of Health on the numbers of infection cases and the source and the outbreak of the epidemic.
Some health sectors claim that the water faucet is behind this disease. Thus, the Algerians stopped using and drinking it, while the Algerian Water Company confirmed that the water is safe to drink and that there is no need to panic about it.
Ahmed Jamai, the director of health in “Blida”, which is one of the largest states that was infected with the disease stated that the real reasons behind the disease is the arbitrary connection of the water network and the polluted fruits irrigated by the contaminated water.
However, the director of prevention and promotion in the Ministry of Health, Jamal Forar, revealed that the control interests were able to discover the source of the cholera epidemic in the state of “Tipaza”, which is the spring of “Sidi Al-Kabir”, in "Ahmar-Al Ayin" municipality, noting that the results of the analysis conducted by the Pasteur Institute revealed part of the truth.
However, the director general of the Pasteur Institute, Dr. Zubayer Harrath, confirmed that the bacteriological analysis conducted by the Institute on the samples of the infected patients showed that the cholera epidemic was "due to the lack of hygiene conditions in some consumables, doubting that it can be related to water”.
The state of panic started mainly after the Ministry of Health's denial of what Minister Mokhtar Hasbellaoui said about the possibility of eradicating the disease within three days.
Regarding this panic, the head of the National Council of Medical Ethics and the Algerian Doctors' Syndicate, Dr. Mohamed Bakat Borkani, said that the panic reflected directly on the performance of the officials’ sector, who did not deal well with the situation, either by hiding the cases recorded at the beginning or while communicating with the citizens.
For his part, the professor of political science at the university of “Stif 2 “, Karn Mohammad Islam told the Sputnik agency that the government bears the responsibility of the panic, as the official handling of the epidemic was not serious.
The political science professor said that the government deliberately covered up the disease and its source, and announced it in delay, despite the appearance of its symptoms on dozens of people days ago, although that the Algerians knew that the disease outbroke a week before the official announcement.
The conspiracy theory
Among the state of ambiguity and hesitation by the authorities, many conspiracy theories have escalated among Algerians. In fact, some people consider that the emergence of the epidemic is deliberate to put pressure on Algeria and spread chaos.
The professor stated that some people deducted, without any clear evidence, that what is happening is connected to the treatment of Algeria to the African migrants, especially after the international criticism on their ill-treatment, noting that the government will eventually seek to link the epidemic with the Africans to win the international sympathy and get rid of them under the “victimization” cover.
He also pointed out that the outbreak of the cholera news coincided with the return of the trade union movement, in addition to the bottled water companies’ calls of to abandon the faucet water, in light of the high prices of the bottled water.
Mohamed Islam spoke about the allegations said by some Algerians about the pharmaceutical companies’ creation of their new cholera products to gain more profits, although the latter hypothesis is unlikely to be true.
However, the Minister of Health’s statement regarding the crisis was very surprising, as in response to all the criticism he faced he said the situation was improving and under control, justifying that “his ministry is seeking to adopt a strategy since its first day to confront the cholera and challenge the skeptics by the eradication of the disease in just 3 days.
Nevertheless, despite the popularity of the conspiracy theory in the Algerian society and for some government elites, who seek to cover the real causes behind the disease; it is certain that the health sector in Algeria is suffering from big problems.
The health sector crisis
Along with the spread of the cholera disease, many questions have been raised about the real and scientific reasons behind this epidemic, especially with the deteriorating health situation in Algeria in the recent years.
The Algerian journalist Anis Rahmani blamed the health sectors in the country, and the society as a whole because of the lack of awareness and cleanliness. He posted on Twitter: "Just talking about cholera in 2018 is an insult to Algeria, people and government! Whoever relies on watering the fruits and vegetables with dirty water is a sinner and a criminal, who have to be severely punished! The concerned authorities must act quickly to stop this crime, which has never happened even at a time of terrorism! Cleanliness and integrity are the society’s issues as a whole, which are just like cheating! "
The social network pages in Algeria circulated shocking scenes of the water treatment centers, which were filled with dirt and waste in a number of Algerian provinces, which were clear signs of the absence of the simplest elements of health and hygiene.
The director of the epidemiology department at Mustafa Pasha Central Hospital, Abdel Wahab Ben Quonya, accused the Ministry of Health of negligence and disregard.
He stated in a statement in The New Arab: "Unfortunately, there is no health policy in Algeria, and if the Ministry of Health and the government are unable to organize a health and preventive policy, the emergence of cholera would be the very possible consequence”.
What was very surprising for the Algerians is the weakness of the measures taken by the Ministry of Health, which has sent only 100 elements to analyze all water treatment centers in the country, while the Ministry of Water Resources has just ordered the bodies charged with water treatment to raise the chlorine rate from 10 to 20 of percent in the drinking water as an emergency measure to cope with this health disaster.