In a bid to protect the survivors of Cyclone Idai from a cholera outbreak, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has begun an oral cholera vaccination campaign in Beira, Mozambique.
A press statement released by WHO on Wednesday said nearly 900,000 people are expected to receive the vaccine from the GAVI- funded stockpile.
The oral vaccination campaign funded by GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance, will be carried out by the Mozambique Ministry of Health, with support from WHO and other partners, including UNICEF, the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and Save the Children.
The country had been hit by the cyclone, which caused severe flooding in Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Malawi and Madagascar after making landfall in March.
This had a devastating effect on the countries as thousands have been displaced from their homes and scores dead.
Many of the internally displaced persons now live in camps and this has been synonymous with disease outbreaks such as cholera, among others.
Also, cholera is endemic to Mozambique, which has had regular outbreaks over the past five years. About 2 000 people were infected in the last outbreak, which ended in February 2018.
Currently, there has already been one reported cholera death and almost 1500 reported cases following the cyclone.
Nine cholera treatment centres, with 500-bed capacity, are already admitting patients.
To forestall a major epidemic, WHO is supporting the ministry of health to coordinate the oral cholera vaccination campaign, including working with partners to ensure an appropriate cold chain storage and provide logistical support.
Seth Berkley, Gavi CEO, said “Cyclone Idai’s trail of devastation has left the city of Beira’s water and sanitation infrastructure in ruins, providing the perfect conditions for cholera to spread.”
“This cyclone has already caused enough devastation and misery across south east Africa; we have to hope these vaccines will help stop a potentially major outbreak and prevent yet more suffering.”
About 884 953 doses of oral cholera vaccine taken from the global cholera vaccine stockpile arrived in Mozambique on Tuesday.
Mr Berkley said Gavi is also supporting operational costs of the campaign.
Tedros Ghebreyesus, Director-General of WHO also said “hundreds of thousands of people are living in terrible conditions in temporary settlements without safe drinking water and sanitation, putting them at serious risk of cholera and other diseases,”
“The key thing is to make sure that people can rapid treatment and clean water and sanitation. The oral cholera vaccine is a vital emergency measure that will help save lives and stop the spread of this horrible disease.”
The use of the stockpile for outbreak response is managed by the International Coordinating Group (ICG), which features representatives from WHO, UNICEF, IFRC and MSF.
WHO said since the stockpile was launched in 2013, millions of doses every year have helped tackle outbreaks across the globe.
According to the health agency, in the fifteen years between 1997 and 2012, just 1.5 million doses of oral cholera vaccine were used worldwide.
In 2018 alone, the stockpile provided 17 million of doses to 22 different countries.
Since the beginning of 2019, more than 6 million doses have already been shipped to respond to outbreaks or address endemic cholera in many countries including Democratic Republic of the Congo, Nigeria, Somalia and Zimbabwe.