SUCRE, Bolivia -- A cholera epidemic that began 11 weeks ago in Peru will kill an estimated 40,000 Latin Americans over the next three years and will likely remain in the region for years, senior health officials here say.
Health officials from eight Latin countries who met in this Andean city for an anti-cholera summit said that, despite urgent efforts in Peru and other countries to contain the disease, the epidemic was now out of control.
"I'm afraid the possibilities for controlling this epidemic are not very bright. We just can't hold the epidemic within the present limits. Most likely we are going to have cholera in all of the countries of Latin America," said Dr. Carlyle Guerra de Macedo, director of the Pan American Health Organization.
The meeting, which began Sunday and brought together health officials from Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Cuba, Chile, Bolivia and Brazil, came amid rising pessimism about the contagion's spread and capped a week that brought the first two cholera deaths in Colombia and the first cholera cases in Brazil and Chile.
The officials painted an alarming portrait of a region left vulnerable by more than a decade of government neglect and debt-related depression. They urged drastic new investments in potable water and sewage infrastructure.
"Cholera has uncovered what we already knew -- that the conditions of our people are miserable, that our populations are pauperized. This should shake the consciences of our governments," said Enrique Granizo, Ecuador's vice health minister.
Cholera is spread through sewage-tainted water, fish and vegetables. It causes acute diarrhea and nausea. If not treated, the resulting dehydration can kill in a few hours.
Dr. Macedo, a Brazilian physician, said he based his estimates of the likely Latin American death toll on the epidemic's behavior in Peru, where epidemiologists expect the cholera to sicken at least 280,000 and kill 1,600 from a population of 20 million before it burns itself out. So far, the disease has infected 158,000 and killed about 1,100 in Peru.