A drawn out cholera outbreak affecting Sierra Leone and neighboring Guinea has been worsened by poor living conditions and heavy rainfall. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), this has already been Sierra Leone’s worst outbreak in 15 years. OCHA statistics have reported 15,308 cases since January 2012 and 249 deaths. The WHO Global Alert Reponse system reported 16,360 cases and 255 deaths since September 8 2012.
Sierra Leone’s government has recently declared the outbreak a national emergency. The Presidential Task Force has held ‘sensitization meetings’ with local women and has distributed aqua tabs in a move to empower women to fight cholera in their communities. Despite this recognition, local residents are complaining that not enough is being done to address extremely poor access to potable water and sanitary facilities. Unfortunately, some locals have been covering their faces and avoiding shaking hands, not realizing how the disease is spread.
Densely populated slums in Freetown have suffered the worst of the cholera outbreak, where toilets are inadequate or not available. Public defecation paired with constant rainfall has led to unsanitary conditions that have been difficult to address, according to local organizations. This number is likely to be worse in the poorest urban areas, where available water has been turned into a “toxic mix of trash and human waste”, says Mattia Koi Dimoh of World Vision.
UNICEF’s ‘Progress on Drinking Water and Sanitation 2012’ report illustrates the country’s struggle to improve access to potable water and sanitary facilities. Although access has improved by 27 percent since 1995, only 55 percent of the nation uses an improved water source. Nationally, open defecation is still more common than utilization of an improved sanitary facility.
With more seasonal rain on the way and the shear number of new cases, humanitarian organizations such as the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) and Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) warn that the outbreak is still far from contained, despite their ongoing efforts on the ground. WHO Sierra Leone has also recognized that there are still months left in the fight to end the epidemic.
For more on cholera from the Disease Daily, please visit past cholera articles.