FEATURED STORY

Fighting a Cholera Outbreak in a South Sudanese Displaced Persons Camp

by Jenna Montgomery, International Medical Corps Communications Officer

UPDATE AS OF AUGUST 5, 2015: The second round of the International Medical Corps cholera vaccination campaign in the UN House Protection of Civilian sites was completed. Our staff vaccinated 24,024 in the second round, 85% of the registered population. International Medical Corps treated a total of 74 cases since the beginning of the outbreak, all of whom have recovered.

International Medical Corps is currently managing the health response to the cholera outbreak in the Juba Protection of Civilians (PoC) sites, which hosts a population of about 30,000. Patient zero was identified at this site through enhanced surveillance operated by International Medical Corps. This is one of the “hotspots” of the cholera outbreak identified in the country. As of June 26, 313 cholera cases including 26 deaths had been reported in South Sudan.

Children at the International Medical Corps clinic sign up to receive their cholera vaccination.

In the PoC camp, International Medical Corps has three outpatient clinics and a field hospital composed of an emergency department, a 40-bed inpatient department, a maternity ward with delivery, and an operating theater. The inpatient department houses a 10-bed isolation ward that is operating as a cholera treatment unit. Cholera cases are diagnosed using rapid diagnostic tests administered through the laboratory in the International Medical Corps field hospital. Enhanced hygiene measures are in place, including hand washing and foot spraying with chlorine on entry and exit from the health facilities, in order to mitigate the chances of spreading the disease. A group of 35 community health promoters have been trained and are actively working to sensitize community members, as well as to identify and refer suspect cases. Our staff has also trained a contact tracing and case investigation team that is deployed to investigate every confirmed case.

Children show off where an International Medical Corps health worker marked their fingers to indicate they received their vaccination

Cholera, a highly infectious, but treatable diarrheal disease, is caused by the ingestion of food or water contaminated with the bacterium Vibrio cholerae. An estimated 3 to 5 million people contract cholera every year and between 100,000 to 120,000 of those people die as a result. As many as 80 percent of cases can be treated successfully using oral rehydration salts, but its short incubation period, which ranges from two hours to five days, contributes to the often rapid speed of cholera outbreaks in communities that are without proper water and sanitation systems.

A community health worker spreads the word with her megaphone about proper hygiene and sanitation practices to prevent disease

In an effort to stop the outbreak from continuing, International Medical Corps is chairing the multiagency cholera task force responsible for cholera response in the camp. And, with support from WHO and UNICEF, International Medical Corps operated a four-day oral cholera vaccination campaign in the camp that reached 27,340 people. The second round of vaccinations, for dose 2, is scheduled to begin next month.

Families line up to receive their cholera vaccination cards

International Medical Corps has extensive experience in cholera outbreak response and prevention including in Haiti, Zimbabwe, Cameroon, Iraq and South Sudan. International Medical Corps began implementing programs in South Sudan more than a decade before the peace agreement was signed. Today, International Medical Corps works in rural and urban areas focusing on improving immediate and long-term health service provision. Our work in 87 primary and secondary health facilities serves more than 483,000 refugees, returnees, and other vulnerable populations with a fully integrated package of public health services.