Egyptian Cholera Epidemic

by Daniel L. Haulman

Operation Name: Egyptian Cholera Epidemic
Location: Egypt
Date: September–October 1947
Emergency: A severe cholera epidemic struck northeastern Egypt, infecting and killing thousands of people.
Organizations: 1st Air Transport Group (Provisional), European Air Transport Service, and Far East Air Forces
Airlifted: More than 28 tons of medical supplies and equipment and at least 1,600 gallons of insecticide.
Aircraft Used: C–54 (six) and C–47 (two)

During the last week of September, a cholera epidemic broke out in Egypt north of Cairo. Carried by flies and contaminated water, the digestive tract disease caused dehydration and often death. As the number of cases and deaths climbed into the thousands, the Egyptian government appealed to the World Health Organization of the UN for medical supplies and equipment. Many countries responded.

The United States played a leading role in the international relief effort, relying largely on the newly independent Air Force to deliver emergency cargo. Between September 27 and October 3, the 1st Air Transport Group (Provisional) of the Atlantic Division, MATS, flew five cargo planes (probably C–54s) to airlift 26 tons of medical equipment, saline solution, cholera vaccine, blood plasma, and sulfa drugs from Westover AFB, Massachusetts, to Cairo.

Later in October, the European Air Transport Service flew two C–47 Skytrains from Frankfurt in western Germany to Farouk Field in Cairo. The Skytrains, each bearing a pair of 400-gallon insecticide tanks, sprayed the Nile delta area to kill cholera-spreading flies. Spraying and medical treatments reduced the daily death rate from 500 to 100 persons in less than a month.

The Air Force also helped to transport cholera vaccine from China to Egypt. On October 25, a Far East Air Forces C–54, carrying two tons of serum, took off from Shanghai for Cairo.

International emergency efforts helped to end the Egyptian cholera epidemic, which killed more than 4,700 people.

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I was in high school in Egypt at the time. My father was an MD. I volunteered to help produce id cards to document the inoculation.

My father was 12 and actually had it. My grandparents hid him in a basket where we used to store wheat when officers came door knocking in the village in Luxor to take the sick away. They took my grandfather who died 4 days later.