Countries announce major efforts in fight against cholera

Dr. Tedros Ghebreyesus – WHO

Representatives from several key cholera-affected countries will come together today, Wednesday May 22, 2019 at a World Health Assembly side event in Geneva, under the auspices of the Global Task Force on Cholera Control (GTFCC) to talk about plans to deal with cholera.

The GTFCC is a multi-sectoral partnership, with a secretariat hosted by WHO, that brings together UN and international agencies, academic institutions, and NGOs to support countries affected by cholera.

A multi-sector delegation of Ministers from Zambia will speak first, including Honourable Dr Chitalu Chilufya, Minister of Health.

A press release copied to, said the delegation will be joined by Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director General of the WHO, to announce the launch of Zambia’s national plan for elimination of cholera, a bold step toward ridding Zambia of cholera forever.

For the final panel, the task force will have the participation of Honorable Dr. Amire Amane, Minister of Health, Ethiopia.

Ethiopia’s participation signals a new approach to cholera control in the country and shows bold leadership in moving beyond the stigma that is often connected to cholera. The delegation of Ethiopia will be joined on the panel by leaders from Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) and Médecins Sans Frontieres (MSF).

Every year, cholera kills an estimated 95 000 people and affects 2.9 million more.  Conflict, climate change, urbanization, and population growth all increase the risk of further worsening of the situation in the coming years and urgent action across sectors is needed to protect people, prevent transmission and control outbreaks.

In 2017, the GTFCC launched an ambitious strategy titled Ending Cholera: A Global Roadmap to 2030, which aims to reduce deaths from cholera by 90 per cent by 2030 by targeting highly endemic areas called “hotspots” where predictable outbreaks of the disease occur year after year. By focusing and aligning the efforts and resources of all stakeholders on these “hotspots”, the GTFCC estimates that up to 20 affected countries could eliminate the disease by 2030.

The Global Roadmap provides an effective mechanism to synchronize the efforts of countries, donors, and technical partners. It underscores the need for a multi-sectoral approach to cholera control with country-level planning for early detection and response to outbreaks.

Although access to water and sanitation (WASH) is recognized as a basic human right by the United Nations, over 2 billion people worldwide still lack access to safe water and are potentially at risk of cholera.  Weak health systems and low early detection capacity further contribute to the rapid spread of outbreaks in these countries.

Cholera disproportionately impacts communities already burdened by conflict, lack of infrastructure, poor health systems, and malnutrition. Protecting these communities before cholera strikes is significantly more cost-effective than continually responding to outbreaks.

The introduction of targeted OCV, thanks to Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance’s support, has been a game-changer in the battle to control cholera, bridging the gap between emergency response and longer-term control. Two WHO-approved oral cholera vaccines are now available and individuals can be fully vaccinated for just US$6 per person, protecting them from the disease for up to three years.

Access to basic WASH is sufficient to prevent most cases of cholera because the disease is only transmitted in heavily contaminated water. WASH interventions require an investment as low as $40 per person and can prevent the transmission not just of cholera, but also of a wide range of other water-related illnesses like typhoid and dysentery.

By detecting cholera outbreaks early, and responding immediately, large-scale uncontrolled outbreaks like the one observed in Yemen can be avoided – even in crisis situations.

By Eunice Menka, in Geneva, Switzerland
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