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Red Cross sends team to cholera outbreak in Sierra Leone

22 August 2012

The British Red Cross has sent an emergency response team to Sierra Leone following the cholera epidemic, which has been declared a national emergency and has so far caused at least 181 deaths.

Reports of cholera first began in March, but in the last four weeks cases have increased dramatically, doubling on a weekly basis. So far at least 10,700 people are known to have the water-borne infection, which causes severe vomiting and diarrhoea. However, this number may not fully reflect the situation, as some cases in rural areas are not recorded due to a lack of health infrastructure.

Sharon Reader, emergency team member, said: “The sharp rise in the number of cholera cases is extremely worrying, which is why we are taking action now to halt further spread of the disease before the situation becomes even more devastating. The most important thing is for us to get hygiene information out quickly, and make sure people have access to clean water. Although cholera can be fatal, it is actually an easy disease to prevent and treat.”

Red Cross response

The emergency team will be:

  • supplying health facilities with cholera kits
  • raising awareness about cholera and promoting good hygiene practices
  • providing safe water, through household water treatment and rehabilitating water points.

Causes of cholera include poor sanitary conditions, acute water shortage and contamination of water sources. People travelling from affected regions to other parts of the country can spread the disease. The Sierra Leone Ministry of Health and Sanitation reports cholera has so far spread to 8 out of 14 districts, with the majority of cases being in Western Area and the capital Freetown.

The Sierra Leone Red Cross has volunteers engaged in hygiene promotion and is co-ordinating with the government and humanitarian agencies. It recently completed a situation assessment and is now developing a detailed response plan, targeting gaps uncovered by other organisations.

Increased risks from rainy season

Barry Armstrong, disaster response manager, said: “In the last few weeks the rainy season has set in and will continue till October.

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

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