After being hit with severe flooding and a devastating mudslide, thus increasing risk of cholera infection, half a million individuals in Sierra Leone will now have access to a life-saving vaccine.
The World Health Organization (WHO) recently announced that over 1 million doses of life-saving cholera vaccine, funded by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, will be accessible to those living in Sierra Leone.
This comes just in time, as some areas of the country have been hit especially hard by flooding caused by intense rainfall, and a devastating mudslide that claimed hundreds of lives, left hundreds of individuals missing, and thousands without a home. This mudslide is “one of Africa’s worst natural disasters in recent years,” National Geographic reported.
Intense rain is not uncommon in the country. In fact, “in a dataset of annual precipitation by rainfall, Sierra Leone falls at number 12, globally,” the news outlet shared. Furthermore, it is estimated that the country has received over 2500 mm of rainfall between 2013 and 2017, according to the United Nation’s Food and Agricultural Organization.
Freetown, the area hit especially hard by the mudslide, is the “world’s largest natural harbor,” according to BBC, and is heavily populated, with many of the individuals reportedly residing in informal settlements , such as “tiny tin homes” that are “squeezed on the banks of rivers, the sides of mountains, on the edge of sea,” and are packed with big families. Although climate change or geography may be responsible for the deadly mudslide, some feel that the disaster could have been avoided.
“Yes, the floods and mudslide were caused by nature. But, they could have been avoided or at least mitigated,” Umaru Fofana, a BBC journalist who has been living and reporting from the frontline of the Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone, allegedly wrote in a Facebook post. “If we hurt the environment, the environment will fight back. If we fail to plan, we plan to fail. It’s that simple.”
Regardless, the mudslide has put all residents living in the area at increased risk of water-borne diseases, such as cholera. In the official WHO press release, Seth Berkely, MD, CEO of Gavi Alliance said, “Access to safe water and sanitation is limited, and the public health system, still recovering after the 2014 Ebola outbreak, is stretched.”
Therefore, the two rounds of vaccination, which are planned to start this month and target at least 25 communities most affected by the natural disaster, has the potential to ultimately prevent yet another infectious disease outbreak from hitting the small African country. Sierra Leone’s last major cholera outbreak occurred back in 2012 and claimed 392 lives, while infecting over 25,000 individuals.
“Cholera is a devastating disease which spreads quickly and kills fast, and risks can increase after severe flooding,” Brima Kargbo, MD, chief medical officer at the Ministry of Health and Sanitation in Sierra Leone explained. “The oral cholera vaccine is an important tool to better protect the country and affected communities against the disease, which will ultimately save lives.”
The decision was made to send the vaccines to Sierra Leone after a WHO specialist was deployed to the country to survey the damage and assess the potential for an outbreak.
“Gavi, WHO, UNICEF, and partners are working with the Ministry of Health and Sanitation to help plan and implement the [vaccination] campaign, which will make the vaccine available free-of-cost to disaster-affected populations, while supporting ongoing cholera prevention and preparedness,” WHO reports.