10 August 2012

Sierra Leone: Cholera Concerns Rising

Fetching water in Cockle Bay, Freetown Sierra Leone October 2009
Children fetch water in Freetown, Sierra Leone. Credit
A cholera outbreak in Sierra Leone has worked quickly to kill dozens of people and make its way into the capital city of Freetown. The health ministry reported 62 deaths in the period between June 23 and July 17. "Emergency referral centres have been set up and hospitals and health clinics have been boosted with drugs to combat any escalation of the problem," the ministry said in a mid-July statement.

In the weeks that have followed, the government and NGOs have ramped up operations to reduce the spread of cholera. The Red Cross deployed 400 volunteers and MSF announced it would open two additional centers in Freetown at the start of August. “Our present cholera treatment facilities are stretched to the limit with patients. The patients that we see are of all ages, so it’s not just children or already weak people that are at risk,” said Karen Van den Brande, MSF head of mission in Sierra Leone.

However, it appears that present efforts have been insufficient. Both the Health for All Coalition (HFAC) and WASH-Net have recently called on the health ministry to step up its response effort. HFAC said in a press release, "We wish to commend officials of the health ministry, World Health Organization, UNICEF and other partners for their efforts in controlling the spread of the disease in the country. The fight against cholera must be intensified. We therefore call on all and sundry to join hands with MoHS, partners and HFAC to rid our country of cholera and other deadly diseases."

WASH-Net said largely the same thing in its release adding, "We feel there are still more to be done and hence we call on the ministry to continue to support Blue Flag Volunteers who administer basic first aid and give out lifesaving rehydration salts to people suffering from severe diarrhea and cholera."

The concerns are built upon the rising number of cases and complaints from civil society members that  certain communities are being ignored by the response. The local Concord Times reported on the Susan's Bay district of Freetown where poor sanitation makes it a hotbed for cholera.

Mohamed Conteh, chairman of Susan's Bay community, expressed his concerns with the problem and the response to the Concord Times  "Our authorities are not serious in addressing Cholera because since the outbreak, nobody has visited this community to sensitize us about the preventive methods. We are only being protected by God," he said.

Neighbor Guinea is also dealing with a cholera outbreak that AFP reports today has killed 60 people since February. MSF is also responding to the problem by working to up the number of hospital beds. All of this, as pointed out by AFP, is exacerbated by the drought across the Sahel which is leading to higher rates of malnutrition.