Although Sierra Leone is currently experiencing a downward trend in the prevalence of cholera, international aid agencies caution against complacency and stress the need for continued vigilance. According to the UNHCO, 273 deaths from the disease have been confirmed in Sierra Leone, and 18,919 cases have been reported within the country.
Today, Sierra Leone suffers from the most widespread outbreak of cholera since the disease’s pandemic first struck the country in 1970. Since its peak of 2,100 new cases of cholera a week in August, the epidemic has slowed to about one hundred new cases weekly. Fatality rates have also fallen to about one percent. Nearly all corners of the country are affected by the epidemic, but over half of all new cases occur in the capital city of Freetown. Peter Willson MD, coordinator of Epidemic Diseases at the UNHCO recommends cautious optimism, urging continuing surveillance even in response to hopeful statistics.
An emergency appeal to the International Federation of Red Cross was met with more than $2,600,000. The funds will be used to support the country’s own Red Cross Society and will help more than 3.5 million Sierra Leoneans in at-risk communities. More than 700 Red Cross volunteers provide community-level treatment for mild cases of cholera, but many rural hospitals lack basic infrastructure support. The Red Cross has responded by supplying water systems and infectious disease management systems in the communities that need them most.
No one should die of cholera, an easily treatable and preventable disease. In the case of Sierra Leone and other developing countries, providing communities with access to basic health, water and sanitation is life-saving.