Over 12,400 cases of cholera, resulting in at least 224 deaths, have been reported in Sierra Leone since January. In mid-August, Sierra Leone’s government declared the cholera outbreak a national emergency in response to a spike in cholera cases since the onset of the country’s rainy season in mid-July.
International Medical Corps is responding to the devastating cholera outbreak, in partnership with Americares, by supplying cholera kits, cholera beds and other lifesaving materials to District Health Management Teams in Tonakalili and Bombali provinces. In addition, International Medical Corps will also begin cholera response activities in the capital of Freetown.
Cholera is a waterborne disease that causes continuous watery diarrhea, which can quickly lead to severe dehydration and death if left untreated. Its main symptoms include diarrhea, vomiting, rapid heart rate, low blood pressure, and stomach and muscle cramps. According to the World Health Organization, 80% of cholera cases can be easily treated using only Oral Rehydration Salts. But when left untreated, cholera can kill within hours, particularly in young or malnourished children.
Approximately two-thirds of Sierra Leone’s population lacks toilets, leading to open defecation practices. Combined with rain-related flooding, this can cause contamination of water supplies. Crowded and unsanitary living conditions further exacerbate the risks of coming into contact with contaminated water or food.
With a long record of supporting communities affected by devastating cholera outbreaks in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo, Zimbabwe, Cameroon and Haiti, International Medical Corps is well-positioned to provide immediate relief to Sierra Leone’s cholera patients. Within eight weeks of taking over operation of the two largest Cholera Treatment Centers in the South Department of Haiti, for example, fatality rates among cholera sufferers at the clinic fell from 14% to 0.5%.
International Medical Corps has been working in Sierra Leone since 1998, when it began providing a broad range of emergency health care services to victims of Sierra Leone’s decade-long civil war, which left over 50,000 people dead. In 2010, International Medical launched a five year food security program to prevent malnutrition in children under two years of age.