A complementary tool against cholera

A child suffering from cholera cries after receiving treatment at a clinic in Haiti. A new oral vaccine is hoped to complement efforts to eradicate the waterborne disease. Photo by: Marco Dormino / U.N. / CC BY-NC-ND

In Sierra Leone, cholera has caused the deaths of 176 people since January, prompting the West African nation to declare a national emergency. Worse, the outbreak has spread to Guinea, Mali and Niger.

Clean water and good sanitation systems are “critical” in combating the disease, which “can kill within hours if left untreated,” according to the World Health Organization. But the use of an oral vaccine could also complement efforts to eradicate cholera, experts from the Pan American Health Organization’s Technical Advisory Group on Vaccine-Preventable Diseases voiced Thursday (Aug. 16) at a meeting in Washington, D.C.

The group recommended the introduction of oral cholera vaccine Shanchol after two demonstration projects by Partners in Health and GHESKIO in Haiti — a country hit badly by the epidemic — proved skeptics wrong: Up to 90 percent of those who received the vaccine returned for a second dose.

A concern skeptics had on the vaccine was its feasibility in settings such as Haiti, where logistical challenges pose problems in getting people to come back for their second dosage.

The experts also recommended “moving toward universal vaccination,” according to a press release.

The challenge now is to mobilize funds to establish a “global stockpile” of the vaccine. WHO is “seeking funds” toward this goal, NPR reports. But the need to strengthen operational capacity and provide safe water and sanitation remains.

“While currently available cholera vaccines are not golden tickets, we must move quickly to save as many lives as we can with the tools that are available to us now,” NPR quotes Louise Ivers of Partners in Health.

Shanchol, according to WHO, can provide protection from cholera for at least two years.

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About the author

  • Jenny Lei Ravelo

    Jenny Lei Ravelo is a Devex Senior Reporter based in Manila. She covers global health, with a particular focus on the World Health Organization, and other development and humanitarian aid trends in Asia Pacific. Prior to Devex, she wrote for ABS-CBN, one of the largest broadcasting networks in the Philippines, and was a copy editor for various international scientific journals. She received her journalism degree from the University of Santo Tomas.