Two million people in five African countries are set to be vaccinated against cholera, in what the UN and charity alliance Gavi have termed as the largest cholera vaccination drive in history.
The vaccines were sourced from the global stockpile and are being used to carry out five major campaigns in Zambia, Uganda, Malawi, South Sudan and Nigeria.
The ongoing campaigns in Africa are being implemented by the Health Ministries in the five countries, where thousands of cases of the disease have been reported.
Those targeted are set to receive oral cholera vaccine (OCV). Oral Cholera Vaccine is recommended to be administered in two doses. The first gives protection for six months while the second goes for three to five years.
Between 1997 and 2012, just 1.5 million doses of cholera vaccines were used worldwide. In 2017 alone, almost 11 million were used around the globe.
In the first four months of 2018, over 15 million doses have already been approved for use worldwide.
“This is an unprecedented response to a spike in cholera outbreaks across Africa,” said Dr Seth Berkley, chief executive of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, which funded the programme. According to the World Health Organisation, the burden of the disease remains high in many African countries with at least 12 countries reporting active cholera transmission in sub-Saharan Africa.
“Every rainy season, cholera springs up and brings devastation to communities across Africa,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO’s regional director for Africa.
According to the UN health agency, cholera infects 1.3 million to four million people every year and kills an estimated 21,000 to 143,000 - mainly in poor countries.
“Oral cholera vaccines are a key weapon in our fight against cholera,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in the statement. stressing though the need also to improve access to clean water and sanitation, train health workers and work with communities on prevention.
Cholera is a bacterial disease which causes severe diarrhoea and dehydration, usually contracted by ingesting food or water contaminated with a bacterium carried in human faeces and spread through poor sanitation and dirty drinking water.
Left untreated, it can kill within hours.
WHO recommends giving the oral cholera vaccine in two doses, the first offering protection for six months and the second for three to five years.
“We have worked hard to ensure there is now enough vaccine supply to keep the global stockpile topped up and ready for most eventualities,” Dr Berkley said.