It’s good to be back in Sierra Leone again. I was last here in 2009. It is a country full of life, with a constant buzz about it. But it’s a country that has faced more than its fair share of problems and is again faced with another problem – cholera.
Over 278 people have died with more than 20,000 reported cases. The Government of Sierra Leone has declared a national emergency. CARE, with funding from the British Government’s new Rapid Response Facility, is quickly scaling up its cholera response programme – not an easy job when getting to many areas is a logistical challenge at the best of times, let alone when hampered by the rainy season. Even in the capital city, Freetown, roads are a disconcerting experience. With potholes everywhere, cars are constantly moving from both sides of the road to avoid them.
To save lives, fast action is needed now, so we are distributing cholera prevention kits to families. Simple measures such as hand washing go a long way toward preventing cholera, but this is not an easy task in a country where safe, clean water supply is a luxury. I am mindful of how much we take our good quality water supply for granted back in the UK, able to drink and cook without fear of getting sick. In Sierra Leone, CARE is making sure that water sources are free from cholera. It is terrifying to think that a person with a severe case of cholera can go from having no symptoms to death within just a few hours.
I received great news that water purification tablets have arrived from our suppliers in Europe and are being distributed in communities to CARE staff who are working to prevent further cases of this disease.
A water treatment unit is also now in place for the Kabala hospital. Coupled with the need to address the general water supply for the hospital, this water treatment unit will give access to safe water, and will be managed by the Cholera Treatment Unit that has been organised by CARE’s partner, Medicos del Mundo.
We are working hard, together with the governments of the UK and Sierra Leone, to stop the spread of cholera, and CARE are sending two experts in emergency response (a water and sanitation expert and a team leader) to support the in-country team.
Since I’ve returned to the UK from Sierra Leone, CARE continues to respond to the cholera outbreak in Bombali, Tonkolili, Kambia and Koinadugu. To date 56,996 people have benefitted directly from distributions and hygiene promotion. Radio jingles and panel discussion broadcasts on key cholera prevention messages have reached an estimated 768,130 people. And an additional number of hygiene kits for 5,100 families are ready for immediate distribution.