By Akanimo Sampson
An oral cholera vaccination campaign to protect survivors of Cyclone Idai began on Wednesday in Beira, Mozambique.
It is funded by Gavi, and the Vaccine Alliance. The campaign is however, being carried out by the Mozambique Ministry of Health, with support from the World Health Organisation (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.
There has already been one reported cholera death, and almost 1,500 reported cases following the cyclone, which caused severe flooding in Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Malawi and Madagascar after making landfall in March. Nine cholera treatment centres, with 500-bed capacity, are already admitting patients.
“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,” said Gavi CEO, Dr Seth Berkley. “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.”
“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,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of WHO.
“The key thing is to make sure that people can access 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.”
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 providing logistical support.
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.
The 884,953 doses of oral cholera vaccine arrived in Mozambique on Tuesday. They were taken from the global cholera vaccine stockpile, which is fully-funded by Gavi. Gavi is also supporting operational costs of the campaign. 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.
Since the stockpile was launched in 2013, millions of doses every year have helped tackle outbreaks across the globe. 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.