accessibility & help

Urgent action needed to halt fatal cholera outbreak in Sierra Leone

23 August 2012

For further information 
Rebecca Lefort 020 7877 7548 
Out of office hours pager: 07659 145095

A British Red Cross emergency team is heading to Sierra Leone to help tackle a deadly cholera epidemic.

The disease, which has already infected more than 10,000 people and killed more than 170, is spreading rapidly throughout the country.

The British Red Cross team of experts in hygiene promotion and sanitation will work with the global Red Cross movement to halt the worrying rise in the number of people affected by the water-borne infection, which causes severe vomiting and diarrhoea and can kill within hours if left untreated.

The all-female team will start work today (Thursday, August 23), supplying health facilities with cholera kits, raising awareness about cholera and promoting good hygiene practices, surveillance and early detection, and providing safe water through household water treatment and rehabilitating water points.

Sharon Reader, who forms part of the British Red Cross emergency response unit, said: “The sharp rise in the number of cholera cases is extremely worrying, which is why we are taking action now to halt its spread before the situation becomes even more devastating. 

“The most important thing is for us to get hygiene information out quickly, and make sure that people have access to clean water.

“Although cholera can be fatal, it is actually an easy disease to prevent and treat.”

The Sierra Leone government officially declared a cholera outbreak in March, and the disease and been spreading since then, with a spike in reported cases since mid-July and the onset of the rainy season. 

Over the past five weeks, 6,000 cases alone have been confirmed, and there are fears that many other cases have not been officially reported especially in rural areas where disease surveillance systems are weak.  

Worryingly, some areas are suffering up to 8 per cent mortality rate for cases, when it would be expected to see an average of less than 2 pc of patients dying. 

In response to the growing crisis, the Red Cross movement is taking urgent action. A Red Cross Field Assessment and Coordination Team (FACT) has been in Sierra Leone since the beginning of the week and has been joined by emergency teams from Finland, Japan, Norway, Canada, and now Britain. 

Barry Armstrong, Disaster Response Manager at the British Red Cross, said: “In the last few weeks the rainy season has set in and will continue until October. 

“Further heavy rain is forecast, and local co-ordination mechanisms are already overstretched – factors likely to accelerate the spread and intensity of the outbreak. It is vital that we act now to prevent more infections and more deaths.”

The British Red Cross team in Sierra Leone includes: Diane Moody, 47, from London (hygiene promoter), Sharon Reader, 32, from Glasgow (beneficiaries communications and specialist support), Anne Carroll, 29, from Cambridge (sanitation engineer), and Jacoba Johanna Visscher, 55, from Holland (hygiene promoter).


Notes to Editors
Cholera is an infection of the small intestine that can cause acute diarrhoea and vomiting and can kill within hours. People get the infection by eating or drinking contaminated food or water. Neighbouring Guinea, and parts of Mali and Niger have also been affected by the outbreak.
There are an estimated 3 to 5 million cholera cases and 100,000 to 120,000 deaths due to cholera every year. Up to 80% of cases can be successfully treated with oral rehydration salts. 
Effective control measures rely on prevention, preparedness and response. Provision of safe water and sanitation is critical in reducing the impact of cholera and other waterborne diseases. Oral cholera vaccines are considered an additional means to control cholera, but should not replace conventional control measures.
For more information or interviews please contact Rebecca Lefort, media relations officer at the British Red Cross on 0207 877 7548 or email
For in-country information from the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) contact Patrick Massaquoi on 
+23 2766 32753 or email 

The British Red Cross helps people in crisis, whoever and wherever they are. We are part of a global voluntary network, responding to conflicts, natural disasters and individual emergencies.
We enable vulnerable people in the UK and abroad to prepare for and withstand emergencies 
in their own communities. And when the crisis is over, we help them to recover and move on 
with their lives.