The 3-week-old cholera epidemic that has caused 100 deaths and is crippling Peru's food export industry was caused by inadequate sewage and water systems, the nation's top health official said.
Health Minister Dr. Carlos Vidal said Monday that Peru's government had not made adequate investments in public health over the past 30 years.The epidemic has caused fear in Latin America and many parts of the world that the disease will be spread by travelers from Peru or by any of the country's food exports, which range from fish to mangoes.
Neighboring Ecuador, Chile, Bolivia and Brazil have tightened border security, examining visitors for sickness and destroying food that might be contaminated.
On Wednesday, Europe's Economic Community is expected to decide which Peruvian foods can be safely imported. The ruling could affect up to $700 million in export earnings for Peru.
Beyond the 100 deaths, 16,600 people have been treated in Peru for cholera. The disease causes diarrhea and severe dehydration, and it can be fatal if not treated. It is spread through contact with food or water contaminated with the feces of people infected with the disease.
Vidal said the epidemic's underlying cause was a lack of adequate sewage and water systems.
In many poor urban neighborhoods, he said, drinking water was delivered by trucks in dirty tanks and stored in cisterns that were not routinely disinfected.
Vidal said the government's responsibility was to maintain basic sanitation to ensure public health, something that had not been done.
Press reports tell of leaky sewage pipes in Lima that have contaminated drinking water conduits, creating a serious health hazard.
In the bustling downtown, street vendors serve hot egg sandwiches, fruit drinks, ice cream, fried fish and sugary cakes without access to running water or basic sanitation services.