Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Will 2013 Be the Year of Cholera Prevention?

January 14, 2013

There has been so much news related to cholera and cholera research since the start of 2013  I can only hope it means this year will be a banner year for prevention efforts: 

  • In a paper in Scientific Reports researchers reveal that vaccinating only 46 percent of Haiti’s population could help control the spread of cholera in the country;
  • Two articles in the New England Journal of Medicine address cholera; one documents that 6 percent of Haitians contracted cholera over the last two years, since the massive earthquake hit the country; and another reiterates the need to improve water and sanitation to prevent the disease.    
  • Foreign Policy magazine dives deep into the investigative journalism that went into determining the origins of the epidemic in Haiti.

Endemic cholera (cholera that appears year after year in the same area of a country) often goes unreported. So it’s been gratifying to see the interest in cholera prevention and control and the overall message that we need to do more.  Each article has received roughly equal coverage from my unscientific tweet counts but is rarely sent out by the same person or organization. 

How do we as a concerned community about this disease come together to work on an integrated approach to cholera control – one that includes the massive investments in water and sanitation needed to make a permanent impact on the disease while bridging with the vaccine and treatment tools we have in the meantime? Where are the billions of dollars in funding? Perhaps most importantly, how does the cholera community work to increase the international and national level political will to work on a disease that almost solely affects the poorest of the poor?  

These are hard questions and ones that I think about often. There are, however, hopeful signs that cholera is something a lot of other people are thinking more often about too. And we can all hope this collective thinking will lead to true action that benefits those at risk for cholera.

On the near horizon, the World Health Organization is working with great speed to initiate a cholera vaccine stockpile to be available for use in emergency settings. The foundation initiated the Reinvent the Toilet Challenge to reduce diseases such as cholera (as well as increase family incomes, keep girls in school, enhance human dignity and protect the environment). Agence Medicine Preventive is conducting surveillance with Ministries of Health in nine African countries to more effectively target prevention efforts.

What other concrete actions are you aware of? 

How will we all make 2013 the year that cholera began its steady and real decline?

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