Internally displaced persons (IDP) camps are frequently characterized by poor conditions: overcrowding, poor access to water and few or no toilets. Alone, these conditions are uncomfortable and inhumane; together, they’re a tinder box for outbreaks of diseases such as cholera. Fortunately, there is a new tool that can help reduce the risk of disease, a cholera vaccine.
A recent WHO story highlights the success of a 2 million dose cholera vaccine stockpile that was used in an IDP camp in South Sudan. When cholera appeared, the residents who had received the cholera vaccine were protected against the disease and already fragile health systems were not overwhelmed by treating cholera cases.
The stockpile, which is managed by World Health Organization, International Federation of the Red Cross and Crescent, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and UNICEF, was established in 2013 so that countries could have quick access to vaccines in case of a cholera outbreak. Countries can also apply to use the vaccine to address regularly occurring cholera in “hot spots” (areas where there are more cases). In its first year of use, the stockpile was used nine times to distribute 1.5 million doses of the vaccine in 6 countries over 3 continents.
In addition, Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, an organization dedicated to improving access to new and underused vaccines for children living in the world’s poorest countries, is providing support to increase the stockpile size through 2018. This will improve access to the vaccine and hopefully encourage manufacturers to enter the market and increase production – growing the stockpile even more.
Because cholera primarily affects and kills the poorest of the poor, use of the vaccine stockpile can help address inequities in access to water, sanitation and health care. In this day and age, there are still far too many children and adults who are dying from cholera and other preventable diarrheal diseases. The vaccine is not a panacea, but can serve as a bridge to prevent the spread of cholera as governments and communities work to install systems to deliver clean water, sanitation and basic health services.
The creation of the stockpile is a good news story that rarely gets picked up. Prior to 2013, if a country had a cholera outbreak and wanted access to the vaccine, there may not have been sufficient quantities; today, the world has a cholera vaccine stockpile that has been successfully used and is expected to grow.
To learn more about cholera, check out the World Health Organization’s website & to learn more about the vaccine you can check out the website of Stop Cholera.