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Global campaign to reduce cholera deaths by 90%

Published on 04/10/17 at 09:25am
IMAGE: WHO

A new campaign, launched by the WHO, has begun today to reduce deaths from cholera by 90% through to 2030. The action will be instigated by the Global Task Force on Cholera Control (GTFCC), which is a network of 50 UN and international agencies, academic institutions, and NGOs that work to help countries struggling the most with the disease.

The push comes at a time when war-torn Yemen is facing the worst recorded outbreak of cholera that the world has ever seen – with 771,945 reported cases and 2,132 deaths. Globally, there are 2.9 million cases and approximately 95,000 deaths every year from the infection.

Cholera predominantly affects areas that have poor access to clean water supplies and poor sanitation facilities, it is most common in the poorest areas of the globe (see map above). The infection is relatively simple to treat, with rehydration salts offering a quick solution, and there has also been vaccine developed that offers protection from the bacteria for three years at a time.

The oral vaccine itself is cost effective, working out at only $6 per person – a development that the WHO referred to the availability of two vaccines as a “game-changer in the battle to control cholera, bridging the gap between emergency response and longer-term control”.

Cholera itself is an acute diarrhoeal infection, caused by the bacterium Vibrio cholera. It spreads through the contamination of water or food with the bacteria, in areas with poor sanitation, it can spread rapidly.

As can be seen in the map above, the infection is isolated to a select group of countries, with 47 countries affected by cholera and in 20 of these the disease is endemic; the Roadmap put forward by the WHO aims to rid up to 20 of the infection.

"WHO is proud to be part of this new joint initiative to stop deaths from cholera. The disease takes its greatest toll on the poor and the vulnerable – this is quite unacceptable. This roadmap is the best way we have to bring this to an end," said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of WHO.

It is noted that Northern Europe and the US have managed to eliminate cholera 150 years ago. It is estimated that to provide all individuals with clean water, sanitation and hygiene the cost would amount to $40 per person.

Ben Hargreaves

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