Cholera outbreak escalates in Sierra Leone

August 28, 2012
Photo by Andrea Solomon

Concern launched a large-scale emergency response to contain a massive outbreak of cholera that is sweeping across Sierra Leone, killing an average of five people per day.

A massive outbreak of cholera is sweeping across Sierra Leone, killing an average of five people per day. At least 257 people have died and 16,884 people have been infected by the disease after a particularly heavy rainy season flooded a number of regions where the majority of people lack even basic sanitation, leaving them dangerously exposed. The outbreak, which the World Health Organization has indicated has yet to reach its peak, is already twice as severe as the last major outbreak that occurred in 2007. President Ernest Bai Koroma declared a state of emergency in Sierra Leone last week.

Cholera is contracted by ingesting contaminated water or food — caused by feces in the water supply — and quickly deteriorates into severe dehydration, usually from acute diarrhea and vomiting.

“The World Health Organization (WHO) has now confirmed that ten of the 13 districts in Sierra Leone are affected,” said Paul O’Brien, Overseas Director for Concern Worldwide. “Our immediate priority is to stem the spread of the epidemic and prevent the further loss of life.”

Cholera is contracted by ingesting contaminated water or food — caused by feces in the water supply — and quickly deteriorates into severe dehydration, usually from acute diarrhea and vomiting. In extreme cases, death can occur within hours if basic, cost-effective supplies, such as Oral Rehydration Salts and soap, are not available.

Concern’s Response

Concern launched a large-scale emergency response to reach more than 270,000 people across the capital, Freetown, and the rural district of Tonkolili. “Our response is focused in the two most heavily affected districts of Freetown’s Western Area and Tonkolili District,” said O’Brien. “We are treating contaminated water and have equipped an army of community health volunteers with the supplies to help prevent a deterioration of the crisis.”

Explaining cholera response kit

Tonkolili Cholera Response Coordinator, Thomas Kaye, explains the contents of the cholera response kit to each beneficiary before they take it home. Magburaka, Sierra Leone. Photo: Andrea Solomon

In Freetown, Concern is working across ten sites in the Western Area, targeting 114,082 people, while in Tonkolili District, where 31 deaths and 802 cases have so far been reported, Concern is reaching 157,859 people, or 60 percent of the district population.  Concern’s response focuses on the following:

  • Providing access to safe drinking water by distributing cholera prevention kits that contain water purification tablets, bathing and laundry soap, jerry cans, and Oral Rehydration Salts (ORS)
  • Training community health volunteers to conduct door-to-door awareness-raising on cholera prevention and treatment.  Volunteers are also trained to monitor signs and symptoms, and refer serious cases to the nearest Public Health Unit

Concern is also in close collaboration with local government partners and other international agencies through the United Nations Cluster System, and is supporting the country’s Ministry of Health to increase the quality of reporting, provide medical care, and distribute medical supplies at local health facilities.

Concern in Sierra Leone

On the ground in Sierra Leone since 1996, Concern is working in Freetown as well as the three rural districts of Tonkolili, Kono, and Kailahun. Concern currently has 130 national and 15 international staff working in the country.