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Emergency team helps control cholera outbreak in Sierra Leone

22 October 2012

Woman washing her hands in Sierra Leone

Two months ago the British Red Cross sent an emergency team to respond to an outbreak of cholera in Sierra Leone. Now, the number of new cholera cases is rapidly reducing.

The outbreak, which began in March 2012, had killed more than 180 people and spread to eight out of 14 districts by August. Following the Sierra Leone Red Cross’ request for support, the British, Finnish and Norwegian Red Cross sent emergency teams to step up efforts to contain the disease. This involved working with the Ministry of Health and Sanitation in four highly-affected districts – Port Loko, Kambia, Bombali, and Tonkalili – as well as Western area around the capital Freetown.

Jean Gilardi, hygiene promoter, said: “We worked with the Sierra Leone Red Cross to help bring the cholera outbreak under control. Our two key activities were hygiene promotion and education, and building or fixing key water and sanitation facilities.”

Improving water and sanitation

“The mission went well and I’m glad to report the number of new infections is down,” Jean said. “However, our Sierra Leone colleagues will be continuing to respond and monitoring the situation over the coming months.”

The British Red Cross team helped reduce the number of new cases in the cholera outbreak by providing safe water and sanitation, and promoting safe hygiene practices for 32,650 households in five districts.

David Castellano, sanitation engineer, said: “We’ve helped build or repair 40 water and sanitation facilities. Also, with colleagues from the Sierra Leone Red Cross, we’ve held discussions with chiefs, elders, and other community leaders regarding the establishment of committees for the upkeep of these facilities.”

Training volunteers

The team has also trained 137 volunteers, so they will be better prepared to respond to future outbreaks of the disease. These volunteers can now run oral rehydration points, providing basic first aid for cholera through the provision of oral rehydration salts, and referring more serious cases to clinics. They also provide hygiene promotion advice to help prevent cholera.

All volunteers received a kit, consisting of buckets, jug, cups, oral rehydration salts, water-purifying tablets, pen and notebook, which will be topped up by Sierra Leone Red Cross staff during monitoring visits.

Each volunteer went on to train further people. There are currently more than 650 operational volunteers who are promoting good hygiene practices in order to prevent cholera by going house to house, as well as holding meetings with chiefs, community leaders, and the wider community.  They have so far reached over 30,000 households and over 350,000 individuals with key hygiene-related messages.

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