Cholera outbreak in Sierra Leone
“Cholera is a water-borne disease commonly spread via contaminated water sources. It can cause death through dehydration within a matter of hours, making urgent response a necessity.
“Worldwide, cholera affects three to five million people, and causes approximately 100,000 to 130,000 deaths a year. Although cholera outbreaks are largely a thing of the past in developed countries such as Ireland, they remain a real threat in poorer parts of the world, where hygiene and sanitation standards are often inadequate.
“I’m currently helping GOAL respond to an outbreak of the disease in the West African nation of Sierra Leone, where I have been working for the past eight months. A few weeks ago, the country’s president declared a national emergency, and although the most recent figures have shown that there is a downward trend in the number of reported cases, the epidemic has affected almost 19,000 people and killed 272 since February.
“I’m based in Kenema, one of the eastern lying districts of the country, and one of the regions where GOAL has been working tirelessly over the past five weeks to help prevent an already challenging situation from spiralling further out of control.
“The local Cholera Treatment Unit (CTU) was in extremely poor condition at the outset of the outbreak, but GOAL and the International Rescue Committee (IRC) have worked together to ensure it is capable of caring for 30 patients at a time.
“We have been brilliantly supported by volunteer doctors and workers at the Kenema Government Hospital. Everyone from hospital cleaners, nurses and radio show DJs have played an important role in getting the message out to the public about the importance of hygiene and water treatment during this outbreak.
"Of course, the support provided by the Sierra Leone Ministry of Health and Sanitation has been key in ensuring a successful response.
“Some of our achievements in Kenema include reaching almost 16,000 people in Kenema town with cholera prevention messaging. We have also helped distribute a two-week supply of aquatabs to 555 households in an area with the highest cholera caseload. Public latrines have been disinfected, and we have organised the screening of cholera prevention video messages in the town markets.
“But still the battle against cholera continues. Whilst our messaging is having an impact, many more families need to be reached. GOAL Sierra Leone is utilising all available resources to ensure that the short term problem is confronted, and long term solutions are implemented.”
- Kevin Murphy