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Western Area sees reduction in cholera cases UNICEF and WHO say it is ‘too early’ to scale back response

FREETOWN, Sierra Leone, 18 September 2012 – Latest figures show a downward trend of the number of cholera patients in Sierra Leone, particularly in Western Area and the capital Freetown. Agencies working with the government to limit the outbreak say however that risk factors remain, especially in regard to clean water, sanitation and public health education Furthermore figures can be misleading especially in districts where surveillance and reporting is weak.

“There has been enormous progress made through the strong commitment of the Sierra Leonean government and the coordinated efforts of all operational partners. However we must continue to support the districts in rapidly identifying and intervening where cases are occurring”, says Dr.Wondimagegnehu Alemu, WHO Representative in Sierra Leone. “With continued leadership and the close collaboration of all partners, there is much more to do.”

“We are very happy that the measures we put in place are working and that cholera cases are going down”, says UNICEF Representative Roeland Monasch. ‘However, cholera is an issue of hygiene and sanitation as well as of health education. If we scale down our efforts in those areas now, the number of cases can rise again very quickly.”

UNICEF plans to maintain activities to ensure the downward trend continues and preventive measures can be put in place. “We should not stop fighting the cholera before the number of cases has gone down to 0, and even then we want to put preventive measures in place so that we increase the chances that one day this disease will disappear in Sierra Leone”, says UNICEF Emergency Specialist Moira Fratta.

The cholera outbreak that started in January 2012 has until 16 September affected more than 18,508 people and killed 271. Twelve out of 13 districts of the country are afflicted with the disease. The outbreak has been the worst since 1998. The Sierra Leonean government, UNICEF, WHO as well as several international NGOs had been continuously scaling up their response to stop the spread of the disease.

WHO is supporting the Ministry of Health and Sanitation to effectively coordinate the cholera response. A Cholera Command and Control Centre, co-chaired by the Ministry and WHO, has been established and meets daily with partners to coordinate actions and target interventions. This structure has been replicated at district level. In addition, WHO is providing technical support for surveillance and data management, laboratory diagnostic capacities, case management training, epidemiological investigations and development of rapid response teams in the districts.

UNICEF’s contribution to the cholera response focuses on supporting the government in the provision of safe water sources and effective sanitation activities, while ensuring coordination by all agencies. Activities include the chlorination of water sources and mobilizing communities regarding how to treat their drinking water with chlorine and purification tablets. The agency also provides supplies to the government and partners.

Another focus of the two agencies is health education and social mobilization activities. People need to know how they can protect themselves and their children from the disease and what the symptoms of cholera are so they can report early to a health center. To get the right messages across, UNICEF and WHO in support of the Ministry’s Health Education Team have been teaming up with opinion leaders such as priests and imams and supported community volunteers like Mothers Clubs to mobilize communities. Health workers received training on hygiene and sanitation practices. In an effort to reach a wider audience, the partners used mass media campaigns and community participation on radio and TV. Furthermore the mobile phone companies in Sierra Leone enabled the partners to send information on proper hygiene and sanitation practices via sms through all networks.

The main partners jointly working on the cholera response together with the Sierra Leonean government are: AFC, AFDB, AusAid, Care, CDC, CRS, CUAMM, DFID, EU, GDC, GIZ, GOAL, IMC, IRC, Irish Aid, JICA, Medicos del Mundo, MRC, MSF, OCHA, Oxfam, Plan International, Red Cross IFRC, Red Cross Sierra Leone, Save the Children, UNICEF, UNIPSIL, USAID/OFDA, WHO, World Bank, World Vision.

For any further questions please contact:

Angela Griep, Communication Specialist, UNICEF Sierra Leone, phone : 076-912059, email : agriep@unicef.org

Aminata Grace Kobie, MSc Health Education and Promotion, WHO Sierra Leone, phone: 00232-76 723236, 00232-33 505052, e-mail: kobiea@sl.afro.who.int

 

 
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