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Stamford, Conn. – Sept. 13, 2012 – An emergency shipment of medical aid has arrived in Sierra Leone for the cholera epidemic that has already sickened 17,000 people and left more than 250 dead. The shipment contains enough oral rehydration solution, intravenous fluids, antibiotics, syringes, and other medical supplies to treat up to 15,000 patients at Ministry of Health and Sanitation cholera treatment centers in six districts. AmeriCares is also equipping the facilities with cholera cots and other supplies. icddr,b’s expert clinicians will provide training to health care workers on diarrheal case management in the coming weeks.
The waterborne disease spreads swiftly in places like Sierra Leone with poor sanitation and limited access to clean water. About two-thirds of the country lacks access to toilets, and public health officials are bracing for a spike in cholera infections as the height of the rainy season approaches. Rain water quickly washes cholera bacteria into rivers and streams that residents rely on for drinking water and bathing. Most cholera patients treated with oral rehydration salts will survive, but the more severe cases require immediate use of intravenous fluids to counteract their rapid dehydration. Without treatment, the most seriously ill cholera patients can die in as little as 12 hours.
The shipment marks the first response for the Global Cholera Preparedness Program AmeriCares recently launched with icddr,b to rapidly respond to large-scale cholera outbreaks all over the world. The program combines icddr,b’s 50 years of expertise in cholera with AmeriCares disaster response capabilities. AmeriCares immediately deploys pre-positioned cholera medicines and treatment supplies and icddr,b trains local health care workers in the proper treatment techniques and procedures. The groundbreaking program, announced at the 2011 Clinton Global Initiative Annual Meeting in New York City and featured in The New York Times, is expected to prevent thousands of unnecessary deaths from the waterborne disease. The Sierra Leone response is supported by a generous cholera preparedness grant from the Merck Company Foundation.
“Cholera is a major public health threat. We see it in Haiti, Cuba and all across Africa,” said AmeriCares Medical Director Dr. Frank Bia. “By delivering the most effective medicines and cholera treatment supplies, we can help prevent thousands of unnecessary cholera deaths every year.”