Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone, is now struggling to contain a cholera epidemic that has affected at least 7,757 people and resulted in 134 deaths since January 2012. This is the biggest cholera outbreak in the country since 2007, with the number of incidences rising steadily, particularly in the Western Area which accounts for the majority of cases.
The disease is mostly transmitted by contaminated water sources and foods, and is closely linked to inadequate sanitation. The lack of proper systems for drainage and waste disposal, coupled with heavy rains which cause flooding and contamination of water sources has left the population increasingly vulnerable to the spread of this water-borne disease which can kill in hours.
The Ministry of Health is collaborating with partners to disseminate health promotion messages about how people can protect themselves and others against the spread of disease. This includes washing hands properly, using only boiled water, and making sure that food is cooked or washed properly before consumption. Information about how and where to seek help if needed is also being communicated. The government has set up three emergency centers in strategic locations around the city to handle new cases, with all government clinics providing free treatment for cholera.
CARE Sierra Leone has focused efforts to control the outbreak on spreading cholera prevention information and activities in five of the areas it works in; Bombali, Kambia, Koinadugu, Tonkolili and Western Area.
In collaboration with District Health Management Teams, CARE Sierra Leone will provide information and education via radio discussions and public service announcements, distribute cholera prevention kits to affected and at risk people and provide training to community volunteers and existing community structures (Mother to Mother Groups, Community Health Clubs and Village Savings and Loans Associations) on cholera prevention, hygiene and sanitation and community mobilisation.
CARE Sierra Leone also serves on the national Cholera Task Force, which regularly assesses the scale of the epidemic and discusses various strategies to use available resources to tackle it.