Cholera Vaccine Saving Lives in Sierra Leone

Posted on Sep 29, 2017

A government health worker takes the cholera vaccine door-to-door in the Kaningo neighborhood of Freetown, Sierra Leone, on Sept. 19, 2017. Photo by Jon Lascher / Partners In Health

After torrential rains flooded Freetown, Sierra Leone, in August, raising fears of a cholera epidemic, government employees supported by Partners In Health will fan out from health centers around the capital October 5 to deliver the second and final dose of a vaccine that will protect roughly half a million residents from the deadly diarrheal disease.

Discussions about a vaccination campaign began as soon as floods washed through coastal slums, contaminating drinking water with bacteria-infested sewage. PIH Sierra Leone Executive Director Jon Lascher, a cholera campaign expert, and PIH Deputy Policy and Partnership Director Dr. Bailor Barrie, a Sierra Leonean physician with strong relationships in the government, joined emergency coordination meetings.

Things progressed quickly. Barrie worked hand-in-hand with Dr. Dennis Marke, Sierra Leone’s Programme Manager for the Expanded Programme on Immunization, to help deliver drugs from an international stockpile of essential medicines. PIH also bolstered the government’s plan by adding three dozen supervisors for the effort, everywhere from the warehouse that received the drugs to the health centers that sent employees out into neighborhoods. As a result, nearly all of the proposed population of 518,000 received a first dose of oral vaccine—an impressive number given that campaigns elsewhere, in less urgent times, often reach a far smaller proportion of targeted patients.

Hopes are high for the final dose. By all accounts, the government’s emergency vaccination campaign, supported by Partners In Health, has been swift, smart, and thorough.

“Having the vaccine accessed and delivered so rapidly in Sierra Leone adds some much-needed relief for people often last picked to receive the benefits of modern medicine,” said Lascher.

Check out the full story, which will include PIH’s paradigm-shifting cholera vaccination work in Haiti, when it appears in early November.

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